For the second time in three seasons, Mark Dantonioâ€™s Spartans are in the Big Ten Championship game.
With a 30-6 victory over Northwestern on Saturday, Michigan State clinched the Legends Division title and earned the right to play Ohio State in Indianapolis, Indiana on December 7 for the privilege in the Rose Bowl.
The feat comes just one year after a disappointing 6-6 season that saw the Spartans settle for an appearance (and win) in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
The Spartans have every right to feel excited and proud of the accomplishment, but one game remains on the schedule: a showdown with Minnesota at home on Saturday.
During the Spartansâ€™ win over Northwestern, an MSU fan held up a sign saying, â€œBring on the Buckeyes.â€ Michigan Stateâ€™s mentality could not be more different.
The team is completely focused on beating the Golden Gophers and finishing the regular season on a high note. One player with such hopes is running back Jeremy Langford. The junior was a big part of Saturdayâ€™s win, rushing the ball 25 times for 150 yards and two touchdowns. He eclipsed 1,000 yards on the year in the process. But even the emerging star isnâ€™t allowing himself much time to celebrate.
â€œWe know we have a game next week,â€ Langford said. â€œWeâ€™re going to celebrate this for three or four hours, then weâ€™ll prepare for Minnesota ... Next week, we just gotta keep winning.â€
In response to this statement at the post-game press conference, one reporter asked if Langford had seen the â€œBring on the Buckeyesâ€ sign.
â€œI didnâ€™t see the sign, I donâ€™t look into the stands that much,â€ Langford said. â€œBut we donâ€™t have the Buckeyes next week, we have Minnesota next week.â€
This is the teamâ€™s attitude heading into the final week of the regular season. The Spartans are excited to be in the Big Ten Championship game, but the team isnâ€™t looking forward as some other squads would. Michigan State is completely focused on sending the 19 seniors out with style in Spartan Stadium.
Quarterback Connor Cook echoed that sentiment after the game.
â€œWe still have one game left in the regular season, we have to focus on that, we want to win that and go undefeated in the Big Ten, so weâ€™re not looking ahead to Indianapolis just yet,â€ the junior said. â€œWeâ€™re going to take it one game at a time like we have all year.â€Â
No one on the team is as focused on the Golden Gophers as Mark Dantonio. The seventh-year head coach has a 3-1 record against Minnesota, as the Spartans have beaten the Golden Gophers every time since losing to them in 2009. Before looking ahead to OSU, he wants a win at home to end out the regular season over Minnesota.
â€œWe keep getting better and better as we move forward and thatâ€™s whatâ€™s important in November. Weâ€™re 3-0 right now in November. The stakes do get higher, I feel like weâ€™re playing for a BCS game next week,â€ Dantonio said. â€œWeâ€™ll worry about the Championship game the week after, thereâ€™s no reason to play that game this week. We need to play Minnesota this week, send our seniors out in their last game at Spartan Stadium. The crowd needs to be out there, this is something special that doesnâ€™t always happen, but an opportunity to win 11 games. Then weâ€™ll take it from there.â€
The Spartans have taken this week-by-week approach the entire season. Dantonio and his troops have never been concerned about how others view them. With the win in hand against the Wildcats on Saturday, Dantonio could have elected to add to MSUâ€™s lead, making the win more appealing on paper to the BCS. But Dantonio refused to run up the score, opting for a kneel down instead of going for another touchdown at the end of the game. Michigan State has done this a number of times throughout the season. The Spartans have chosen to play the right way: with class.
â€œThatâ€™s just what we do. Thatâ€™s just the way weâ€™re going to do it. Weâ€™re not going to play to the media, we donâ€™t,â€ Dantonio said. â€œWe play for ourselves and we play for each other, whatever happens, happens. Some things we can control, some things we canâ€™t control. All we can do is win or do the best we can to win.â€
Many have questioned how good the Michigan State offense is this season. A win by a larger margin might have quelled some of those concerns, but Dantonio knows how talented his team is, and thatâ€™s all that matters to him.
â€œWeâ€™ll take what comes down the way for us, but I think weâ€™re a credible football team,â€ Dantonio said. â€œIf you have to look at our offense, maybe you have to look a little harder in terms of the way weâ€™re playing currently. [There are] a lot of good things about this team and a lot of good stories about this team.â€
The celebration has concluded in East Lansing. An appearance in the Big Ten title game is assured. But an appearance in the Rose Bowl is not. As they know, the Spartans still have work to do.
That work begins on Saturday against Minnesota. Donâ€™t expect the Spartans to overlook the Golden Gophers. This team is hungry not only for a perfect record in Big Ten play, but a conference championship.