Chalk up another victory for the Spartans — albeit in unorthodoxed fashion. Quarterback Connor Cook was unusually off, then got banged up and had to come out of the game totally, but Michigan State was still able to beat an outmanned Maryland team to remain in the hunt for really big things.
Yes, I said really big things.
A lot of folks wrote off the Spartans’ chances at the Big Ten Championship and possible birth in the College Football Playoff after the controversial loss to the Cornhuskers lat week, but we’d all be well-advised to hit the reset button, hold it for three seconds, and reboot our collective reasoning for just a moment.
Michigan State still has just the one-loss, and while being ranked No. 13 in the CFP Rankings feels like a Mount Everest climb, there’s still a ton of things that are going to happenf in this wild and crazy college football season. If Mark Dantonio can prepare his team, and everyone finds a way to march in the same direction by pulling off an upset in Columbus next week, followed by a win against Penn State, then get by a likely Iowa team in Indy, we’ll be looking at a one-loss Big Ten Champion with the potential of beating two undefeated teams and Michigan on its resume.
Can you say good hire?
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. The Spartans have not looked like the same team we’ve seen in East Lansing over the last couple of years. There needs to be a drastic improvement in the secondary, and it wouldn’t hurt if some able-bodied athlete stepped up to be a main workhorse in the running game, to add to the threat Cook can provide through the air.
The problem is that those things aren’t going to miraculously materialize like a spontaneous college football evolution event, and the next contest up is against one of the most talented teams in the country. Yes, the big one is on tap in Columbus against The Ohio State University.
So with all the questions abounding, how can the Spartans pull off a course-correcting win against OSU?
It’s simple. The one phase of the game that’s a known commodity has to come through. That known commodity would be Connor Cook, the guy that had some of his life power taken away against Maryland.
Cook is one of the best at his position in the country, and when he’s making the right reads and standing confident, he can be almost unstoppable and put together some eye-popping numbers.
Every team has its bread and butter. It might be a power running game, the read-option, or hoping for a communicable disease to strike the opposing locker room, but for Michigan State, it’s the arm of Cook, and it has to be the arm against Ohio State, if he’s healthy.
Even a less than 100 percent Cook is better than most, but for the Spartans to stand a chance in Columbus, they have to see the same quarterback that’s been able to put his team on its back multiple times this year to keep the top goals within reach.
Why? Because Ohio State’s defense is getting better, and the same J.T. Barrett that carved up an even better Michigan State defense last year will be walking up under center next week after getting a chance to kick off the rust against Illinois.
So here we go Michigan State. You’re up against it, but there’s still everything you want right there for the taking. Fact is, you control your own destiny in the Big Ten, which isn’t quite like stating you control your own destiny in the race for one of the four spots in the playoff, but it’s pretty darn close.
But to make the Lord of the Rings type of journey, Connor Cook has to be the main star in this production. He’s got to show up like he has before with all arms and limbs full go. He has to get time and he has to be confident against a Joey Bosa led defensive front looking to add more bumps and bruises to his person.
He’s done it before, and he can do it again. It’s not a one man show in East Lansing this year, but it is a main man show with Cook and company. It’s an imperative notion that Cook be himself both physically and mentally, and it’s all right before him.
Anything less could leave Spartan fans green with envy.
Phil Harrison is a frequent contributor to talking10.com. He is also a the founder of Big10news.com and featured contributor to collegefootballews.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.