I was going to open with the chaos that ensued on Saturday, but Michigan State’s epic late game meltdown can’t be ignored.
In what might be the worst loss of Mark Dantonio’s tenure, the Spartans wasted a 25-point lead against Illinois and lost 37-34 to a team they should have put away. The Illini scored four fourth-quarter touchdowns to rally from a 21-point deficit, gaining 210 of their 405 yards in the final period. Michigan transfer QB Brandon Peters passed for 215 yards of his 369 yards and two of his three TDs in the quarter, including the 5-yard game-winner to Daniel Barker with 5 seconds to play.
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MSU handled a big lead like it didn’t want it. The Spartans tallied 526 yards of offense and 275 rushing yards and couldn’t hold a 28-3 lead. They bungled every conceivable big moment after that, beginning with how they defended what was essentially a Hail Mary on the final play of the first half. Brian Lewerke’s pick-six, the bizarre way MSU seemed to settle for a long field goal when leading 31-30, the poor play and tackling in the secondary — the end was a caricature of the worst of this MSU football team.
MSU has now been outscored 197-99 in its past 22 games, going 11-11. In those losses, opponents had a 122-13 fourth-quarter advantage — 60-3 in the six 2018 defeats and 62-10 in five losses this season. During Michigan State’s three-game skid against the top of the Big Ten and top-10 opponents, it was easy to overdo the Spartans’ slide from relevance. This was a blowout win that inexplicably turned into a loss for the ages. There’s no coming back from this. Not this season.
The loss for Michigan State could and probably should be considered as the worst loss in the Dantonio era at Michigan State, and a loss that falls directly on the Spartan head coach and his inability or unwillingness to fix the issues that have haunted this team for several years now. As hard as it is for me to say, it’s hard to picture next week not getting ugly when they travel to The Big House to take on the Wolverines.
Switching gears, after a rather eventful day around the college football world on Saturday, the big question is how did it all impact the College Football Playoff race. You would think that two of the top four teams falling on the first Saturday since the initial release of the College Football Playoff rankings would have a dramatic effect on the playoff race, but did it really? Alabama knows it will not play for the SEC championship for the second time in three years and will not have the benefit of strength of schedule. That’s what makes Saturday’s loss almost impossible to overcome. That said, Penn State’s loss to Minnesota kept the door open ever so slightly. Who does the Playoff committee put No. 4 right now?
Alabama will drop to somewhere between Nos. 7-10 next week. Its best bet is to rely on Ohio State, LSU and Clemson going undefeated, which would create a scramble for No. 4.
Can Alabama steal the final spot? It would require a ton of things to happen, but look at the remaining Power 5 teams with one loss or no losses:
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— Georgia needs to lose in the SEC championship game and finish with two losses.
— Baylor needs to lose twice. The Bears play Oklahoma and Texas in the regular season. Oklahoma then needs to lose again, just to be sure. That’s going to be tough, but the Sooners still play Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State.
— Minnesota needs to lose twice — Wisconsin and Iowa are on the regular-season schedule — and Penn State needs to lose at Ohio State. That takes the shine off the Big Ten championship game.
— Oregon and Utah need to lose again, or one needs to lose in the regular season, then beat the other in the Pac-12 Conference championship game. If the Ducks win the Pac-12 with two losses, then Alabama needs to run it up in the Iron Bowl against Auburn, given that the Ducks lost to Auburn in the season opener. That would leave a two-loss Pac-12 champion.
That might seem ridiculous now, given what just happened, but just give it time to play out. Remember, a two-loss team has never made the College Football Playoff.
But all of this could easily change one week from now.