Michigan State has done it. Left for dead after the controversial loss to Nebraska in Lincoln, it beat back all contenders the rest of the way and are now champions of the Big Ten, and will be lugging a trophy back to East Lansing.
But as good as it feels, there’s more work to do.
When the playoff parings are released on Sunday, there is little doubt that Sparty will be among those four. And no matter where in the pecking order the Green and White are slotted, the fact that it has a shot to pull down the ultimate prize is the culmination of what Mark Dantonio has been building in East Lansing since he took the job on November 27, 2006.
And there’s a real shot to win the whole thing.
Championship teams are pounded and brandished into form with toughness. With an athletic and physical defensive front seven, and an offensive line that is getting healthy and playing with more heart, Michigan State can check that box.
Teams that hoist the most expensive hardware by and large have a championship caliber quarterback under center. With Connor Cook, the Spartans have a quintessential leader, and a guy that can fit the football into small windows and stretch the field.
Check, and check again.
To get to the summit of the college football mountain, you must have the coaching. With is glare, leadership, motivation and penchant for dialing up the right play at the most opportunistic time, Mark Dantonio is one of those rock-star coaches as well.
With all apologies to Aaron Rodgers, check, check and double-check.
To be the best, you have to beat the best, and that’s just what Michigan State is now left to try and do. With this win, it has climbed this high and reached higher than the program has under Dantonio, but there are a few more rungs to go.
It’ll either be a Clemson team that’s still unbeaten, an Oklahoma team that’s playing perhaps better than anyone right now, or an Alabama team that seems to have its fanny perched upon or near the mountaintop almost yearly.
Can you wait? Big Ten football appears to be back, and Michigan State now gets the responsibility of carrying the flag into the national spotlight to try and back up what Ohio State did last year and continue to legitimize the Big Ten’s place among the landscape of college football.
So enjoy this win Spartan fans, players, coaches and administration because you’ve earned it. But put it behind you quickly, stretch and get ready to reach up again.
It’s time to reach higher and higher until the reach feels the last rung of a ladder that’s been climbed since Dantonio arrived on campus.
Phil Harrison is a frequent contributor to talking10.com. He is also a the founder of Big10news.com and featured contributor to collegefootballews.com, thestudentsection.com, and occasionally campusinsiders.com. You can follow him on twitter @PhilHarrisonCFB or email him at email@example.com If that doesn’t work, you can find him in the doghouse at home.