Much like last season, one thing stands in between MSU and its goals — Ohio State. Had the Spartans beat the Buckeyes a year ago, it could have been MSU earning a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
But "ifs" don't matter, because the Spartans lost. Yet, here they are again with their dreams in front of them. Defeating the Buckeyes in Columbus will be no easy task. As of right now, the Spartans are 13-point underdogs.
"You know, same story, different week," senior quarterback Connor Cook said. "You know, no one really gives us the kind of respect that we deserve that we think we need. Just another reason why we've said it thousands and thousands of times, it seems like, the chip on your shoulder. Provides more motivation to us.
"People not giving us the respect, we like being in the situation we're in. We like being the underdog, because you know, majority of time, we come out on top. So we're going to embrace it, and we will be ready to go, that's for sure."
Last time out
For the second consecutive year, the champion of the Big Ten East Division likely comes down to No. 9 MSU (9-1 overall, 5-1 Big Ten) vs. No. 3-ranked OSU (10-0 overall, 6-0 Big Ten).
Last season's 49-37 loss snapped the Spartans' 13-game Big Ten Conference win streak— the second-longest in school history.
After missing a field goal on their first drive, the Buckeyes dominated MSU's defense from then on, scoring touchdowns on seven of their next eight drives while putting up 568 yards of total offense.
Every time the Spartans seemed poised to get a stop, OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett found a way to make a play either with his legs or his arm.
"Last year I thought we did not win at the line of scrimmage, so we've got to be able to do that, and it goes back and forth," head coach Mark Dantonio said. "But, when you look at the final day, a lot of it was patience by J.T. Barrett. But great running ability, some different things that -- some different things where we got caught structurally, because there is always structural issues that go along with blocking and tackling, those types of things."
Barrett went 16-for-26 passing for 300 yards and three touchdowns and also put up 86 rushing yards on 14 carries for two touchdowns.
OSU running back Ezekiel Elliott had a big day as well with 154 rushing yards on 23 carries for two touchdowns.
"It's big-time, both stopping Elliott and Barrett," senior linebacker Darien Harris said. "They do a great job staying behind their blockers, staying tight to the gaps they are supposed to hit. So we got to be incredibly sound in that aspect on defense and I would definitely agree that last year when they were able to establish the run that's why the pass opened up. ... They pride themselves on being able to pound the ball up front, and we pride ourselves on our front seven as well so, I'm expecting a really good battle on Saturday."
This time out, the Buckeyes are on a 23-game winning streak and the game will be at Ohio Stadium in front of nearly 105,000 people.
"This is a great opportunity for us ... just to be out there with the guys, have another opportunity to play a big-time school in a big-time stadium," senior defensive end Shilique Calhoun said. "These are the opportunities that we really wanted and this is — these are those games that we really wanted to compete in, so having the opportunity is great and not many people have the chance to go back and play a team that they've lost — they had a loss to, so we're going to take full heed of it and keep moving forward."
"All the goals are right in front of us. We're playing the (No. 3) team in the nation, the defending National Champions, so our goals are in front of us in terms of we at least have an opportunity to control our own situation."Mark Dantonio
But two weeks later, the Spartans are back inside of the top-10 of the College Football Playoff Rankings. And a shot at a playoff berth appears to be on the line once again.
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"All the goals are right in front of us," Dantonio said. "We're playing the (No. 3) team in the nation, the defending National Champions, so our goals are in front of us in terms of we at least have an opportunity to control our own situation. That's all you can ask for. The object is to get to the championship game. So the first goal that we have to accomplish is to win the (Big Ten) East. And I know if we win the next two games, we win the East."
"That's the only things that we can control right now. Then beyond that you take the next step. The next step is to win outright the Big Ten Championship, and then you try and take the next step. So you have to go in order, I think to get to where we want to go."
For a lot of the Spartans this game is also a battle for pride — 29 players on the Spartans roster are from the neighboring state, including Cook and six other listed starters.
"I have a lot of friends that I went to high school with that attended the university. They're gone now, they graduated," Cook said. "And also just growing up and going through the recruiting process, knowing guys from Ohio, playing with guys in All-Star games, guys that go to Ohio State, guys I've got a chance to know. Really it shows like how the Michigan people describe the Michigan game. This is kind of like that game for me.
"With the guys that we have on our team from Michigan when we play the University of Michigan, so it's just going to be that much more fun and just provide that much more motivation for me to go out there and leave it all on the line."
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