The Big Ten has been fighting a perception for the last few years
that it has fallen a step behind the rest of the major college football
world, and Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio was armed with a quick
rebuttal when the question came up again Tuesday.
As Dantonio's seventh-ranked Spartans prepare for a showdown with No.
3 Oregon on Saturday in a week that also includes Michigan visiting No.
16 Notre Dame and eighth-ranked Ohio State hosting Virginia Tech, the
coach was asked if the Big Ten needs marquee wins to fight that
"We won the Rose Bowl last year," Dantonio said, "so what are you talking about?
"It's one game that we can control and we won the Rose Bowl. That's
the best we can do. Everybody has to play the games and that's why they
play them. We beat Georgia a couple years ago, but the perception still
exists. You just line up and play games. I think that people get caught
up in looking at a whole group of people and casting them into one
In the first year of the new playoff format, it could be argued that perception has never been more important.
This year, a 13-person committee is responsible for choosing four
teams that will compete for the national championship. No computers. No
polls. And that relatively small group of people has been instructed to
place an emphasis on strength of schedule in its evaluation process.
"I'm sure there are people that want to say if we win the game the
Big Ten is strong and the Pac-12 is weak or vice versa," Dantonio said.
"But I don't really buy into that philosophy."
In a conference like the Big Ten that is considered softer than, say,
the mighty SEC, the opportunities to pile up wins that would impress
the committee during the conference season aren't quite as bountiful.
That's why Wisconsin's loss to LSU last weekend was particularly
stinging for the Badgers, who do not play Michigan, Michigan State or
Ohio State this season.
"Quality wins, big wins, all those things are always important,"
Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "This is such a mental game played from
the neck up in your everyday approach and your preparation. The
enthusiasm that comes by that is always good for anybody's program."
The Big Ten had an impressive opening weekend, going 12-2. But many
of those games were played against lightweights while the conference
lost two of the games that featured reputable programs from the power
conferences -- Wisconsin to LSU and Northwestern against Cal.
Ohio State had to slug it out with Navy to outlast its unconventional
triple-option offense and now has to shift gears to play the Hokies,
and Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer wasn't ready to say how his players will
respond this weekend.
"We're not ready yet," Meyer said. "We've got Tuesday and Wednesday
practice. I'll know more by Thursday. ... This is a much different
opponent than we had last week."
As of right now, the only team on the Buckeyes' remaining schedule
that is currently ranked in the Top 25 is Michigan State on Nov. 8.
Hoke recalled how legendary Wolverines coach Bo Schembechler always
referred to the game against the Irish as "a measuring point" for the
rest of the season.
"We can't worry about anybody else," Hoke said. "We've got to worry
about what we're doing and people are going to write what they think
period about the Big Ten. From that standpoint we hope the conference
does well, but we've got a lot on our plate going into South Bend."
But the biggest game this weekend, no doubt, will be in Oregon. The
Ducks' high-flying offense against the Spartans' physical defense. And
no matter how much Dantonio wants to downplay it, a win for Michigan
State would be a win for the Big Ten.
"We're in a great conference," Dantonio said. "This is about Michigan
State and Oregon and how we match up. But there's no question we go
there representing the Big Ten just like we do in every game and
everything we do. I'm comfortable with that, but I think it's more about
how we play, how our players play against their players and how we
match up individually in our little battles."