Michigan State football can still reach Big Ten title game. Here's how – Detroit Free Press


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Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio said Sunday that “at 5-3, who knows what can happen?”

And sure, that is met with some eye rolls, but the Spartans still have plenty to play for this season. 

MSU (5-3, 3-2 Big Ten) is currently tied for third in the Big Ten East division with Maryland and Penn State, and behind U-M (5-0) and Ohio State (4-1).

And though they are banged-up at quarterback, offensive line, receiver and the secondary (that’s all?), there is a path for the Spartans to reach the Big Ten championship game Dec. 1 in Indianapolis.

If two teams are tied atop the division, the winner of the head-to-head matchup gets the invite to the conference title game. If three or more teams are tied, there are a slew of tiebreakers to go through, and we’ll break that down below. 

First and foremost, MSU can’t lose again. Saturday’s game on the road against the Terrapins (noon, ESPN2) is far from a gimme, then the Spartans host Ohio State, visit Nebraska and end the regular season against Rutgers. 

So let’s say MSU wins out to finish 7-2 in the Big Ten and 5-1 in the division.

More: MSU stock watch: Jalen Nailor, Matt Dotson emerge

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• Michigan must lose at least two of its final four games to give the Spartans a chance.

The Wolverines beat MSU, 21-7, and therefore own the head-to-head tiebreaker, so MSU needs a third team to finish tied atop the division.

U-M (7-1, 5-0 Big Ten) will play Penn State on Saturday, followed by Rutgers, Indiana and at Ohio State.

• If the Wolverines go 1-3 (or worse), the Spartans are in. MSU already owns the head-to-head over Penn State, thanks to the win over the Nittany Lions, and will own the tiebreaker over OSU in this scenario. 

But let’s say MSU, U-M and either OSU or PSU finish tied atop the East with a 7-2 record in conference play, with U-M’s losses to PSU and OSU down the stretch (though as long as U-M loses to one of them, these scenarios will hold in a three-way tie).

Tiebreakers

• In a three-way, the first tiebreaker is how the three teams fared against each other.

In our hypothetical case, MSU, U-M and OSU or PSU would all be 1-1 against each other.

• The next tiebreaker is division record.

The Wolverines would have two losses in the East — they only play East teams in the final four games — while MSU and OSU would each have one (MSU lost to Northwestern of the West division, and OSU lost to Purdue from the West). The Nittany Lions also would have two East losses.

With U-M eliminated, MSU would win the tiebreaker over OSU based on its head-to-head win — all of this in theory of course.

In the unlikely case Michigan goes 1-3 down the stretch, and MSU finishes tied with OSU and PSU instead, the Spartans would also win that three-way tiebreaker because they defeated both teams. MSU also wins a four-way tiebreaker.

So in conclusion, MSU must win out and finish ahead of U-M, or in a three-way tiebreaker, needing a perfect storm of wins and losses to occur. 

Got all that? 

We’re not saying it’s plausible. But with Dantonio’s Spartans, anything is possible.

The other side: Michigan’s path to Big Ten title game: What has to happen

More: College Football Playoff rankings to be unveiled: Time, TV, more info

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Free Press writer Chris Solari and Lansing State Journal columnist Graham Couch break down Michigan State’s win over Purdue.
Chris Solari, Detroit Free Press


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