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Column: Team smelling roses after strong play

December 1, 2013

Things are looking pretty rosy for Mark Dantonio these days.

Following a 14-3 victory against Minnesota on Saturday, the No. 10 Spartans are in fantastic shape to reach the Rose Bowl, regardless of what happens in next week’s Big Ten Championship Game — a rare position for a team that hasn’t made a trip to Pasadena in more than two decades.

That’s not to say Dantonio isn’t concerned. He’s been here before. Just two years ago, to be exact.

Playing in the inaugural Big Ten title game against Wisconsin in 2011, the Spartans dropped a 42-39 affair and were shutout of the BCS in favor of the Badgers and Michigan — both of whom the Spartans previously had beaten during the regular season. It set off a feeling of outrage among the MSU fan base, who saw a team who won 10 games and had proved themselves in head-to-head matchups, only to be left out in the cold.

But even with all of that in mind, it’s highly unlikely for that type of scenario to play out again.

Asked about earning a BCS bid regardless of the result of this week’s Big Ten Championship Game, head coach Mark Dantonio said there’s considerable risk in playing for the title, which should be taken into consideration when handing out BCS bowl games.

“We’re going to risk moving forward, we’re going to put all the chips on the table and try to go to the Rose Bowl,” Dantonio said. “I think when you do that, you put yourself at risk a little bit. That’s someone else’s decision. All I can do is lay it out there that we’ve got a good team. We’ve got a great, great crowd base that’s going to travel to games.

“We’ve got an exciting football team.”

Despite being criticized for strength of schedule, MSU still has 11 wins and finished the season undefeated in eight games in Big Ten play. MSU also is ranked No. 9 in the coaches’ poll, which is one of two major polls, along with the Harris Poll where MSU is No. 10, that primarily dictates BCS position.

The team that was most likely to jump the Spartans for the Rose Bowl, Wisconsin, fell to Penn State this weekend, which dropped the Badgers from No. 15 to No. 21 in the AP Top 25 and coaches’ polls, respectively.

Meanwhile, the Buckeyes are ranked No. 2 in the country behind No. 1 Florida State and could see themselves playing for a national championship if they defeat MSU in Indianapolis — opening the door for the Spartans to play in the Rose Bowl. Ohio State moved up into the No. 2 spot this week following No. 3 Auburn’s come-from-behind weekend victory against previously top-ranked Alabama in the annual Iron Bowl.

Of course, if the Spartans win, they’ll earn a certain bid to Pasadena.

As much as the Spartans are focused on the task at hand — and it’ll be quite a task against OSU quarterback Braxton Miller and the Buckeyes’ offense — it’s tough not to see the finish line sitting just 30 days away.

That’s not to overlook Ohio State, who has proven they’re more than a worthy adversary. It’s just knowing what’s possible as long as MSU competes as they’re expected to under the lights of Lucas Oil Stadium.

But as was the case in 2011, anything can happen and the Spartans are ready for that unknown factor.

On a Sunday teleconference that featured Dantonio and OSU head coach Urban Meyer in separate sessions, Dantonio said the Spartans once again have an opportunity to prove they’re worthy of playing on the national stage.

“Some people get there early in the season based on media predictions and such, other people earn their way there,” Dantonio said. “I think we earned our way there with an outstanding defense and an opportunistic offense and extremely solid on special teams.”

Mark Dantonio is feeling rosy. There’s more than a few fans that are as well.

And with the way the BCS might play out in MSU’s favor, that feeling could be a greater reality for the Spartans than previously imagined.

Dillon Davis is a State News football reporter. Reach him at ddavis@statenews.com.

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