Dantonio, Spartans must sleep with the enemy

BY foxsports • November 23, 2010

Dave Dye
FOX Sports Detroit

East Lansing -- If Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio wants to go to the Rose Bowl, he's going to have to get help from his most hated rival.

Dantonio, who has never hidden his dislike for Michigan, wouldn't bite on whether he is personally capable, even under these circumstances, of rooting for the Wolverines.

"Personally capable?" Dantonio said, repeating the question during his weekly news conference Tuesday morning. "Everything's irrelevant unless we win. We'll worry about that after we win. Is that a good answer? Best I can do."

The Spartans, who are tied for first place with Wisconsin and Ohio State, can clinch at least a share of their first Big Ten championship in two decades with a victory Saturday at Penn State. However, they're likely not going to the Rose Bowl, or any BCS game, unless Michigan upsets Ohio State.

Assuming Michigan State wins, here are the bowl scenarios depending on the Wisconsin-Northwestern and OSU-Michigan outcomes:

* Ohio State and Wisconsin both win: The BCS will determine the three-team tiebreaker, with MSU probably missing out on a BCS game and going to the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day in Orlando, Fla. Another possible destination, if the Big Ten doesn't get a second bid to a BCS game, would be the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla. MSU is No. 10 in the current BCS rankings while Wisconsin is No. 7 and Ohio State is No. 8.

* Ohio State loses and Wisconsin wins: Michigan State would go to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1987 season. MSU holds the two-team tiebreaker edge over Wisconsin because the Spartans defeated the Badgers, 34-24, in the Big Ten opener.

* Ohio State wins and Wisconsin loses: Ohio State likely would win the two-team tiebreaker over MSU. The teams don't play this season and they would have identical overall records, so the tiebreaker reverts to the BCS standings.

* Ohio State and Wisconsin both lose: Michigan State would head to Pasadena, Calif., with its first outright Big Ten championship since 1987.
Dantonio's focus, of course, is on preparing for the Nittany Lions. Since Penn State joined the Big Ten, Michigan State is 0-8 in State College while getting outscored, 348-162. He took a 9-2 team there two years ago, only to lose 49-18.

"I think, first and foremost, we need to embrace the moment as a football team, have fun, enjoy the moment and understand these times don't come along very often," Dantonio said. "It's a difficult environment to play in. When you have an opportunity to be a champion, you have to go through difficult times. That's part of this.

"It will be a battle over there for us, a challenge. That's a good thing."

Despite a 10-1 record, 6-1 in the Big Ten, there is not a specific area that really stands out about this Michigan State team. It's been a collective effort all season for the Spartans.

"When you look at us statistically across the Big Ten, I don't think we rank No. 1 in one category," Dantonio said. "But we're three, we're four, we're No. 2 in some.

"We're in the hunt for the top (spot) in a lot of different things. I think that's making the difference. What you see is a well-rounded football team.

"We're finding ways to win. We've gotten great plays to win football games on special teams throughout the season. It's making a difference."

Michigan State ranks No. 5 in the Big Ten in scoring, No. 3 in points allowed, No. 5 in pass offense, No. 5 in pass defense, No. 6 in rushing offense, No. 3 in rushing defense, No. 4 in total offense and No. 4 in total defense.

The Spartans actually do lead the conference in two special-teams categories -- punt-return average (12.9 yards) and field goals (93.3 percent, 14-of-15).

As for the health of quarterback Kirk Cousins, who has been hampered by a sprained left shoulder and sprained left ankle, Dantonio said: "I think he's feeling better."

Nov. 23, 2010