EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) – Michigan State returns to the field Saturday to face Eastern Michigan, and although it lost its showdown at Oregon two weekends ago, coach Mark Dantonio’s team remains highly regarded.
The euphoria from last season’s Rose Bowl run hasn’t worn off. Now the question is whether the 11th-ranked Spartans can do enough against their remaining opponents to earn a spot in college football’s four-team playoff.
"Here we are at the beginning of the season with the bye after two games, that’s very early in the process. And I think any time that’s happening, you want to play," Dantonio said. "We want to be fresh. We want to be motivated to play and have great attention to detail, all those different things we talk about."
Michigan State (1-1) led then-No. 3 Oregon in the third quarter before allowing four touchdowns in the final 20 minutes of a 46-27 loss. If the Spartans win the rest of their games and take the Big Ten title, they’d probably be part of the playoff conversation, although their conference is off to a poor start.
Dantonio made one thing clear at his news conference Tuesday: He isn’t worried about running up huge margins of victory to impress the playoff committee.
"We are going to play to win, and after that is accomplished, we’re going to try to get our younger players playing and develop experience and depth on this football team," he said. "I’m not interested in taking a timeout before the end of the game to get another seven points. I’m interested in playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played and letting it go."
The Spartans are 45 1/2-point favorites against the Eagles (1-2), and it may be a little while before they’re seriously tested again. They host Wyoming, which lost 48-14 at Oregon last Saturday, next week before opening Big Ten play with a huge game against No. 24 Nebraska on Oct. 4.
"I think all the goals are still there," Dantonio said. "I’ve said before, number one goal is to get into the (Big Ten championship) game. If we do that, good things are going to happen. That’s what we can control. Some of the things we can’t control, but that’s what we can control."
Connor Cook set career highs in completions (29), attempts (47), yards passing (343) and interceptions (two) while also throwing two touchdown passes against the Ducks.
"I thought Connor played very well but in the fourth quarter he needs to play better," Dantonio said. "He’d be the first to admit that. Because coming down the stretch, that’s where your quarterback needs to play very, very well."
The Spartans will be trying to get their ground game going after totaling 123 yards. They rushed for 211 in a season-opening 45-7 win over Jacksonville State on Aug. 29.
"You always want to see balance to be able to run the ball effectively," Dantonio said. "If you can do that, it makes things easy."
Eastern Michigan has allowed 211.0 rushing yards per game this season, and the Spartans ran for 269 in a 23-7 win Sept. 22, 2012, to improve to 9-0 in the all-time series.
The Eagles enter this matchup after getting outscored 82-3 in back-to-back road losses to Florida and Old Dominion.
"Massive respect for a (Michigan State) program that you can tell really believes in themselves," first-year coach Chris Creighton said. "… We’re definitely excited about the opportunity to continue to improve and go up there and play Eastern Michigan football."
The Eagles, who are 0-9 all-time against ranked opponents, have lost nine straight and 19 of 21 on the road.