Let’s get this out of the way…unless you’re an Ohio State fan or a Michigan fan, you’re rooting interest on Saturday night should be Michigan State. If you’re a fan of the Buckeyes obviously you’re rooting for your team to win, and in the case of Michigan fans…well, we’re guessing you’re hoping for a black hole to appear and suck up everything in East Lansing.
For the other 12 fanbases in the Big Ten, Saturday night should be all about the Spartans. Why? Simply put, a rising tide lifts all boats. It’s all about the B-1-G, baby!
In the case of the Big Ten, its fanciest yacht is Michigan State and the Spartans represent the Big Ten’s best opportunity to get some national respect back come postseason play.
Sure, for some fans of other teams they could care less about rooting for anyone else, but in today’s world the fact is without conference respect, whatever your favorite team is doing on its own won’t matter.
How else do explain a 2-loss Ole Miss team hanging around the top 10? Or TCU and Kansas State ahead of Michigan State in the College Football Top 25?
It’s all about conference respect, and it’s clear that the selection committee (even with two members with Big Ten ties on it) doesn’t think highly of the Big Ten. Most of that reputation is earned courtesy of a horrific non-conference season, but Michigan State has earned the ability to overcome that one loss.
That’s what dropping a 24-game win streak of Ohio State and winning a Rose Bowl gets you. But the Spartans and the rest of the conference have eight years of bad history on the national stage to undo. Any amount of national respect the conference can earn in the first year of the new system could pay dividends down the road (just see the SEC-lovefest happening these days).
Some may think we’re ignoring the possibility of the Big Ten West winning the title, but there’s a reason for that. The truth is, no matter who wins that division, it would take a miracle for whomever comes out of that jumbled up foursome to make it to the College Football Playoff.
Out West there are two teams in the College Football Playoff Top 25 — Nebraska and Wisconsin — but do either really move the needle enough to matter on the national scale? Sure, they are good Big Ten teams, but both have some major holes on the offensive side of the ball (think passing game).
Both would have a chance to make one of the CFP tie-in games, but that’s a step backwards when the conference needs to be making a big splash to let the rest of the college football world take notice.
That’s where Michigan State comes in to the picture, the Spartans’ loss to Oregon looks better and better by the week, and with a win on Saturday against Ohio State they have a signature win to hang their hats on heading in to a Big Ten championship game run.
Meet either a Big Ten undefeated Wisconsin or get a rematch with Nebraska and the resume gets one more boost before the final College Football Playoff selections are made.
Can you really say Ohio State, Nebraska or Wisconsin have anywhere near the caché needed to make a top 4 run? All three currently have albatross around their necks — Ohio State’s loss to Va Tech, Wisconsin’s loss to Northwestern and Nebraska’s awful non-conference schedule. Even the winner of next week’s Nebraska vs. Wisconsin contest won’t get the jump needed to make a run at the top 4 by the end of the season.
Only Michigan State could point to a resume with enough quality, and enough early respect, to it to make a difference on the national scale.
Unlike the SEC or even the Pac-12, the Big Ten can’t afford to cannibalize each other and still come out ahead. If the goal is to get back to the top of the college football mountain, then getting to the first dance in the new era of college football is a great way to start making that assent.
So, as much as it may pain some of you out there, Saturday’s best result for the future of the Big Ten is Michigan State winning and moving closer to the top 4 with everyone else in front of them cannibalizing themselves.