EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio believes his eighth-ranked Spartans deserve to be in the inaugural College Football Playoff if they win the rest of their games.
It was almost a moot point.
Michigan State (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) beat No. 19 Nebraska 27-22 in its conference opener, nearly blowing a 24-point lead. The Spartans were up 27-3 early in the fourth quarter, but Cornhuskers tailback Ameer Abdullah had two touchdowns rushing and wideout De'Mornay El-Pierson scored on a 62-yard punt return with 3:22 remaining to pull within one score.
''Did we coach correctly? No,'' Dantonio said of the fourth quarter. ''Did we play correctly? No. There were things that we needed to do better on both ends, so we are all in it together.''
Michigan State kicker Michael Geiger missed a 36-yard field goal attempt with 1:07 remaining and Nebraska was driving for the potential win, but Spartans cornerback Trae Waynes intercepted Tommy Armstrong Jr. with 30 seconds remaining to seal the victory.
''We just thought we had it in the bag,'' wide receiver Macgarrett Kings Jr. said. ''We didn't move the ball as well as we would like to (in the second half). ... It was just little things we need to fix to finish out the game like we usually finish.''
Offensive coordinator Dave Warner said he didn't believe Michigan State players let up at the end. Mistakes simply piled up and the Spartans were not able to run out the clock. Warner said he's partly responsible, and there were play calls he would like to have back.
''There's a lot of things,'' Warner said. ''I think we did a very poor job, and I'm including myself, as far as clock management.''
Michigan State held its usual film review Sunday to begin preparation for this week's game at Purdue (3-3, 1-1) and took a hard look at what went wrong during the final minutes.
''It wasn't fun,'' offensive lineman Connor Kruse said. ''A lot of mistakes.''
The fact that players and coaches were disappointed with a win over a top-20 team shows just how high expectations are in East Lansing. Dantonio was still able to enjoy the win, especially considering five of the top eight teams in the AP poll lost in Week 6.
''You can look around the country and ask four or five other teams how they feel this week,'' Dantonio said. ''In the big picture of things, if you win, you're going to advance. If you lose by a couple, chances are you don't.''
The Spartans ultimately emerged unscathed in the conference standings and still harbor legitimate playoff aspirations. Now they must win out in order to keep those hopes alive considering a Week 2 loss at Oregon and the Big Ten's weak national reputation. If MSU takes care of business the rest of the way, however, Dantonio believes the Spartans will be in. That would mean winning the Big Ten championship game for the second straight year.
''There's enough football teams in this conference that are winning games,'' Dantonio said. ''So if we do what we're supposed to do, or what we're attempting to do, and get in the (Big Ten championship game) and win that game, then I think good things are possible.''
Next up is a Boilermakers team that won 38-27 at Illinois last Saturday their its first conference victory under second-year coach Darrell Hazell. The Spartans eked out a 14-0 win over Purdue last season to remain unbeaten in the conference and are looking to avoid another letdown after their shaky finish against the Cornhuskers.
''We look at every game as a championship game since the Big Ten started,'' quarterback Connor Cook said. ''If you play Purdue and you lose, you're completely out of the hunt for the Big Ten championship game.''