Yesterday I wrote about Michigan State being primed for a run at the 2015 national championship. In today’s column, I’d rather take a look into the “what if” ramifications of a successful Sparty run to the title.
I have no particular affinity for the Spartans, but neither have I been particularly soured on them from the actions of their fans. I have had both good and bad interactions with MSU fans, in about equal measure, which has at least had the effect that I don’t outright hate Michigan State…in football, anyway. In fact, I kind of like Mark Dantonio, and Ohio State fans will forever be in his debt for building that monstrosity of a defense that punished the Miami Hurricanes in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl.
Dino’s turn as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator was an unqualified success, and Ken Dorsey probably still wakes up in a cold sweat most nights thinking about Matt Wilhelm, Cie Grant, Will Smith and other defenders on that national championship team.
Heck, Michigan State even has a Tressel on its staff, in co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Mike, a nephew of the beloved, sweater-vested Jim.
So, while I don’t necessarily care for the Spartans, I find them kind of difficult to hate, despite the fact that they’ve given us a few heartbreaking losses over the years. I respect the hell out of Dantonio, who has built a tough-as-nails football team over the years in East Lansing and had Urban Meyer not been available I like to think the powers that be at Ohio State would have seriously considered offering the job to Dino.
The last few days I’ve been laid up with a pretty nasty sinus infection, which gives you time to think. Mostly I’ve been thinking about what a Michigan State title would mean in the broader sense of the college football landscape and whether it would mean a paradigm shift in the way the Big Ten in particular is viewed in a national sense. For years we’ve had to live with the SEC narrative, which, if we’re being honest, Ohio State is as responsible for as anyone, with those back-to-back championship game losses to Florida and Louisiana State University.
If Sparty wins two more games this season, Ohio State can be just as responsible for the end of the endless SEC wanking and the beginning of a potential golden era with the B1G getting that treatment. After all, it’s impossible to ignore the presence of Michigan State, Iowa and Ohio State in the current polls, as well as the fact that all three were in position to make the final four (albeit with the caveat that at least one team was always going to miss out).
"The national perception of the SEC…I think that has taken a hit starting with last bowl season and continuing through this year."– Dave Revsine, BTN
Is the SEC narrative still even a thing? I reached out to someone a bit more qualified and potentially far less biased than me to find that out.
“The national perception of the SEC…I think that has taken a hit starting with last bowl season and continuing through this year,” said BTN college football host Dave Revsine. “Were 'Bama to fail to win the title, making it three straight years without an SEC National Championship, my sense is that the knee-jerk assumption of SEC superiority takes a hit.”
Another voice that echoes Revsine's thoughts is former Buckeye running back Robert Smith, who is now an ESPN analyst.
"I think it already has shifted to a degree," Smith said via email. "No one believes the B1G is as dominant as the SEC was during seven straight NC's, but I think most believe the B1G is the best conference this year. If Michigan State wins, it would only strengthen that view — for this year at least."
So if the SEC has already taken a bit of a hit (and that’s obviously the case when a guy like Paul Finebaum starts saying nice things about the B1G), does that narrative shift to the Big Ten if Sparty pulls out two more wins this season?
“An MSU title would be huge — not just because it's two straight for the Big Ten, but because it's two different programs, including one that isn't a historic year in and year out power,” Revsine said. “This would be the equivalent of Auburn winning it all — a good, well-respected program, but not the conference's absolute best programs historically. Add in the growing momentum at Michigan and the recruiting success at Penn State, and I do think you'd start hearing some talk of a shift.”
Are we ready for a world in which ESPN personalities and national writers like Stewart Mandel and Pat Forde say nice things about the Big Ten on a weekly basis? That might color whether or not you’ll root for the team in green during the College Football Playoff.
As Big Ten fans, it provides some cognitive dissonance and feels kind of weird. On one hand, we’ve been ridiculing the SEC’s socialist group fandom for years, with supporters of Tennessee and Kentucky football somehow taking credit for the accomplishments of the Alabamas, LSUs and Auburns. We’ve laughed at chants from fans of SEC newcomers Missouri and Texas A&M as if they somehow had anything to do with the rich history of the Southeastern Conference.
On the other hand, it’s felt like decades of disrespect and disapproval from college football’s talking heads, so it might be nice to get a little love.
The bottom line for me is that rooting for Michigan State doesn’t make me feel dirty the way supporting Michigan or Penn State would. In fact, if it was Northwestern or Iowa, I might actively be cheering them on New Year’s Eve for no other reason than a basic dislike of the Crimson Tide and their fans. Beyond that it would be more difficult, as I have no active dislike of Clemson or Oklahoma resembling any of the animosity I have toward Alabama or various other programs across the country.
So…are we ready to embrace a golden age of Big Ten football? Should we be ready to circle the wagons and brace for the hate from other conferences that has been solely pledged against the SEC for the past several years? Or do we cut off our noses to spite our faces and cheer on the destruction of a team that ruined our season?