College Football Playoff:
Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Ohio State
Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Florida State
As expected, MIchigan State’s 10-2 record and second place finish in the Big Ten East was not enough to secure them a spot in the elusive College Football Playoff. MSU’s only two losses came to Oregon and Ohio State, both of which were selected into the “Football Four”.
Although there were 31 points that ultimately separated MSU from Oregon and OSU, both games were much closer than the scoreboard predicted. Two almost-plays against Oregon and one almost-play against Ohio State may have made the difference between National Championship hopes and a Cotton Bowl berth, which seems like a insufficient consolation prize to an MSU team that has finished with 10 or more wins four out of the last five years.
Sept. 6: Oregon 46 MSU 27
The Spartans had three sacks against Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota in their loss that Saturday. They needed four. With momentum shifting early in the third quarter, the Spartans were clenching tight to a nine-point lead. Connor Cook missed Trevon Pendleton by a foot, scrambling in the pocket trying to throw a quick drop-down pass.
There was nothing but green in sight for Pendleton, had he been able to catch the ball, it would have been a 20-plus-yard pick up. But the Spartans were forced to punt.
On the next possession, freshman defensive lineman Malik McDowell sacked Mariota to make it third and 10. That was sack number three for MSU, and they had all the momentum. The Spartans came inches from getting their fourth sack on the next play.
But they could not wrap up Mariota.
After scrambling for what seemed like an eternity, Mariota was able to find Royce Freeman on a 17-yard conversion — a play that looked almost identical to the Cook’s attempt to Pendleton, except Cook missed by inches, and Mariota was able to make the completion.
Oregon went on to score a touchdown on the drive, taking the lead cutting their deficit to two points. With two more drives and two big plays, Oregon ended up with a 39-27 lead, eventually winning 46-27.
Nov. 8: Ohio State
MSU looked as if they were taking control of the game, as Jeremy Langford ran in a touchdown to give Michigan State a 28-14 lead. The play was called back, however, on a holding penalty by center Jack Allen. Michael Geiger then missed a field goal, and on the next play from scrimmage J.T. Barrett found MIke Thomas for a 79-yard touchdown.
In a matter of seconds, MSU went from possibly leading by 14, to possibly leading by 10, to tied up. They would not regain the lead.
“…bottom line is they called the hold and we didn’t get seven, and it backed us up. And we didn’t overcome that and we missed the field goal on the next play.” Mark Dantonio said after the game. “And then I forget really what happened.”
What happened was Michigan State’s defense continued to give up big play after big play. Even though MSU had 536 yards of total offense and Connor Cook threw for a career-high 358 yards, even though MSU had zero turnovers and two takeaways – the Spartans came up short.
If the Spartans proved anything this season, it is that they can play with anybody. There were glimpses of greatness in their two losses, but not enough greatness to go undefeated. Michigan State finished the season at No. 7 in the AP Top 25 Poll, and No. 8 in the College Football Playoff Rankings, making them the highest rated two-loss team in the AP Poll, and second-highest, behind only Mississippi State, in the CFP Rankings.
We will never know if a win over Oregon or a win over Ohio State would have been enough to lift the green and white into the top four, certainly they would be looking at a number one seed in the playoff had they gone undefeated.
There is still a lot at stake for the Spartans this season, a win in the Cotton Bowl over Baylor team would be an accomplishment. MSU’s senior class, with a win, can tie the record for most in school history (42). The Spartans will take on the Bears on New Year’s Day in Arlington, Texas.
Bradley Allen is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports
Photo: Bradley Allen/Impact Sports