EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) Mark Dantonio has never paid much attention to polls and the new college football playoff rankings are no different.
The No. 8-ranked Spartans (7-1 overall, 4-1 Big Ten) were also listed as the No. 8 team when the rankings were unveiled Tuesday.
”I think it’s like all the other polls that have been out there, really,” Dantonio said. ”I think what you can do is control your own destiny, and that’s what we need to do. So the focus needs to be on winning football games and not looking at newspapers.”
Michigan State is in the middle of a bye week coming off a 35-11 home win over Michigan. Now the focus shifts to a Nov. 8 home game against Ohio State (6-1, 3-0) that will likely determine the Big Ten East division champion.
Ohio State held on for a win at Penn State in the second overtime last week and hosts Illinois on Saturday.
”I would definitely say this is a game where you have to prepare like it’s a championship game,” tight end Josiah Price said. ”We’re both undefeated in conference so far and the winner is definitely going to have a clear path.”
Michigan State upset the Buckeyes in the Big Ten championship game last season to reach Pasadena, California, where the Spartans won their first Rose Bowl since 1988.
This year’s team has a chance to reach even greater heights. Players and coaches have talked about national championships in the past, but never with such a realistic chance.
Michigan State won’t look that far ahead, however, considering any chance at the playoff ends with a loss to Buckeyes.
”We are in the hunt,” quarterback Connor Cook said. ”We’re a top 10 team, but we’re used to that. We’re used to being a good football team and people talking about us. We just carry ourselves in a way where we’re gonna work hard no matter what.”
The Nov. 8 matchup against Ohio State will likely be the biggest Big Ten game of the season, with conference championship and playoff implications.
And Michigan State knows it needs a win to achieve lofty preseason goals.
”November is for contenders,” safety RJ Williamson said. ”This is the month where everybody needs to do what they need to do and push through and fight to achieve those goals. This is the best moment of the season, I think. Down to the nitty gritty.”
Dantonio will give his players the weekend off and said the timing of the bye week between back-to-back big games should benefit his team.
”I think it gives us time to regenerate ourselves and get past the last emotional game,” Dantonio said.
The Spartans have won their past three conference games by double-digit margins and have a legitimate shot at the playoff if they win the rest of their games.
”There’s definitely a buzz around our team and the opportunity to do something great again this season,” Price said.
Michigan State must get past the Buckeyes first, in what becomes the last chance for a quality win until the Big Ten title game.
The Spartans lost at Oregon 46-27 in their second game of the season.
”We’re striving for perfection and excellence,” Dantonio said. ”I know we’re working hard toward it, I know that we’re a confident football team and we’re gonna come to play next Saturday. Those are things I can tell you that we’ll do. Will we be exactly right on everything? I know that we won’t. And some may be costly. But as long as we come to play, we can live with the results.”