By Ashley Dunkak
CBS DETROIT – Michigan State’s status as a contender for a playoff berth could boom or bust this weekend, when the seventh-ranked Spartans travel to Eugene, Ore., to take on the No. 3 Oregon Ducks.
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio does not pay much attention to the Big Ten vs. Pac-12 narrative, but he knows what this game – only the second one of the season – could mean for the Spartans.
“Our program has taken steps since coming here in 2007, and I sort of feel like, whatever year it was when we decided to play Oregon home and home, when they asked me, ‘Do you want to play them?’ I felt like we needed to be at this point in 2014 to be able to play a game like that,” Dantonio said. “Every game we play, every game on a big stage we play, creates another opportunity for Michigan State and our program to make a statement – one way or the other.
“Sometimes maybe we haven’t gotten there and we’ve taken a step back,” Dantonio added. “Remember we played Ohio State on [ESPN] Gameday in 2008 and we weren’t quite ready yet, and we lost, convincingly. But the next week we gathered things up and we went down and played very well in Ann Arbor. It’s not the end-of-the-world-type situation, but I think we’ve taken the right steps to try and get into a game like this so that people can say, ‘Hey, if they win this football game … ‘ it sends you farther up the ladder, maybe.”
The Spartans have already climbed much of that ladder; inclusion in the college football playoff would be the only tangible improvement on last season, when Michigan State went 13-1, winning the Big Ten championship and the Rose Bowl.
Given the change in the postseason structure of college football, one big game early in the season can determine whether or not a team has a chance to compete for the national championship.
Dantonio, predictably, will not concern himself with the setup.
“We’ve played in big games, we’ve won away from home in every stadium in this conference, we’ve won our last three bowl games, played against good competition, we’ve been on a big stage at the Rose Bowl, we’ve been on a big stage at the championship game or at Penn State or wherever, so I don’t really worry about that,” Dantonio said. “I’m more concerned about getting the job done. I don’t think we’re going to go in there and be intimidated.
“If you look at our football program right now from when we’ve come in 2007, it was trying to get to these moments,” Dantonio added. “We look forward to that opportunity.”
The matchup is expected to fascinate college football fans nationally not only because of how successful both programs have been – 89 wins combined over the last four years – but because of their contrasting styles. Oregon’s uptempo, high-scoring offense will try to flummox Michigan State’s assertive and unforgiving defense. Both teams are renowned in college football for those respective units, an aspect Dantonio can appreciate.
“You look at Oregon, certainly you see what they’ve done offensively, and they are different from other spread teams, but I think that they’ve had so much success that a lot of people are taking some of the things and imitating them or, not copying, but using their concepts and trying to adapt it into their offenses,” Dantonio said. “You look at our defense, I think again, it’s cutting-edge. There’s not a lot of people who have played our defense in the past, I think people are moving towards it and doing some of the things that we’ve done, and we’ve had tremendous success with our defense the last three, four, really the last four years, so that trend needs to continue.”