No. 6 Michigan State aims for 9-0 record, face Nebraska next
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) Coach Mark Dantonio won't obsess over Michigan State's spot in the season's first College Football Playoff rankings.
His top interest this week is getting the No. 6 Spartans (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten) ready for a game at Nebraska (3-6, 1-4) on Saturday night.
''I'll be watching film,'' Dantonio said Tuesday. ''The end game is what's important. What happens in the next four-and-a-half weeks is the bottom line.''
Michigan State is 25-9 in conference road games in Dantonio's nine seasons in charge, including a 19-3 mark since 2010. The Spartans' fifth-year seniors have won in all 14 Big Ten stadiums.
The challenge this week is winning at packed Memorial Stadium, where Michigan State earned its first win in eight tries in the series two years ago. The Spartans held on for another victory in East Lansing last season.
Dantonio isn't looking past the hard-luck Cornhuskers to a showdown at No. 1 Ohio State on Nov. 21.
''You'd better focus on the task at hand,'' Dantonio said. ''There's no reason to look past that.''
The last time Michigan State was 8-0, it took a trip to the heartland and lost to Iowa 37-6, costing the Spartans a berth in the Rose Bowl and possible shot at a bigger prize. That was the Spartans' ninth straight game of 2010. This year, a bye week couldn't have come at a better time for health reasons.
All-America center and tri-captain Jack Allen is listed first on the depth chart for the first time since sustaining a leg injury Oct. 10 at Rutgers. His return should help a ground game that struggled in wins at Michigan and against Indiana.
Quarterback Connor Cook should also benefit, though it might be hard to improve on his 31-3 mark as a starter or his performances in the last three games, when he has thrown for 1,093 yards and seven scores. His 64 touchdown passes are two shy of Kirk Cousins' career record at Michigan State.
The only record Dantonio cares about this week is 9-0. The Spartans will be just the 10th unbeaten opponent to visit Lincoln in November, with just three of the first nine leaving unblemished.
A 13-0 record in early December is the lone guarantee that Michigan State will play in the Football Four, after finishing third and fifth in the final polls in the past two seasons. Dantonio knows that his team can't win 13 before it wins nine.
''There are a lot of big games between now and then that will affect those four spots and how people are ranked,'' he said of a process that had eventual champion Ohio State 16th in the committee's first rankings last year.
The Spartans have won 21 of their last 22 Big Ten games but aren't taking anything for granted in a facility that will have its 347th straight sellout crowd.
Dantonio's respect for Nebraska dates back to his days as an assistant at Kansas, when the Jayhawks never beat the Cornhuskers and his wife Becky called them ''The Big Red Machine.''
The machinery is in place for Michigan State to get where it hasn't been since 1966, when it earned a share of the national title.