Is Michigan State a True Playoff Threat After Upsetting Ohio State?

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistNovember 22, 2015

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 21:  Michael Geiger #4 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrates after kicking a 41-yard field goal as time expired against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium on November 21, 2015 in Columbus, Ohio. Michigan State defeated Ohio State 17-14.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Michigan State upset Ohio State on a last-second field goal, but in truth it should have won by multiple scores.

The Spartans held the Buckeyes to 132 yards of offense, dominated the trenches, overcame a pair of costly turnovers and snapped the nation's longest winning streak (23 games) despite a shoulder injury to star quarterback Connor Cook, which forced backup Tyler O'Connor into his first career start and made OSU an even heavier favorite than it had been all week.

In the process Sparty vaulted to the top of the Big Ten East standings, which means it now controls its conference fate. If it beats Penn State in East Lansing next Saturday, it will face undefeated Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game with a chance to finish 12-1.

But would that be enough to make the College Football Playoff?

Depending on how the chips fall, it might.

Jim Weber @JimMWeber

If MSU wins this, they've got a REALLY good shot at the College Football Playoff. Thought they were COMPLETELY out of it after NEB loss.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

First things first, though. MSU must take care of its own hand before it worries about players at other tables.

The Spartans can make a strong case for playoff inclusion by beating Penn State and Iowa. Both of those games will be difficult, especially if Cook's shoulder remains a problem. But the defense that showed up in Columbus—a healthier, angrier, more inspired unit than MSU had seen all season—raises the ceiling of what this team can be.

Ohio State's two scoring drives went 38 yards combined. Star running back Ezekiel Elliott, who entered the game a Heisman candidate, ran 12 times for 33 yards. Star quarterback J.T. Barrett, who shredded the Spartans in East Lansing last season, created nothing through the air.

A secondary beleaguered for much of the season—and with good reason—looked sound with the return of multiple players, with veterans playing safety instead of lightly recruited true freshmen.

The defense as a whole looked unstoppable.

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 21:  Ezekiel Elliott #15 of the Ohio State Buckeyes is gang tackled by Craig Evans #72 of the Michigan State Spartans, Riley Bullough #30 of the Michigan State Spartans and Lawrence Thomas #8 of the Michigan State Spartans in the t
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

The offensive line enjoyed a bounce-back game, also. After earning preseason love as one of the best units in the country, Sparty's blockers have been plagued by inconsistency, in part because of injury, and the running game has suffered in turn.

On Saturday, however, the line lived up to August expectations. It plowed through a blue-chip Ohio State front seven that knew—or at least should have known—the Spartans wanted to run.

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 21:  Quarterback Tyler O'Connor #7 of the Michigan State Spartans looks for running room in the third quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium on November 21, 2015 in Columbus, Ohio. Michigan State defeated Ohio Stat
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

O'Connor managed the offense and made occasional plays with his arm, but really a couple plays he made with his legs, along with early contributions from Gerald Holmes and late contributions from LJ Scott, were the difference between two struggling offenses.

"First thing we had to do was win up front on both sides of the ball, and I thought we did that," head coach Mark Dantonio said after the game, per Justin Dacey of MLive.com. "Second thing we had to do was allow no explosive plays. We gave away two turnovers—big turnovers—but we rallied back and that's just an attitude.

"We rallied back."

Brett McMurphy @Brett_McMurphy

Amazingly Michigan State led both Michigan & Ohio State for zero seconds on the clock but won both games

So now what does Sparty have to root for?

The short answer: chaos whenever possible.

The key is getting losses from the group of one-loss teams from power conferences—plus, quite importantly, Notre Dame. It also needs to root against Clemson, the undefeated leader of the ACC, although the Tigers and one-loss North Carolina are zero-sum.

The key teams to root against are Notre Dame, Alabama, and the pack of ranked Big 12 teams (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor and TCU).

No. 7 Oklahoma holds a current advantage, ranking ahead of No. 9 Michigan State in the Week 11 CFP rankings, and could hold off Sparty behind Clemson, Notre Dame and Alabama if all things hold.

But because the Pac-12 is "eliminated" with no more one-loss teams, only one of those above teams needs to falter. One more break would give MSU a great shot at making the playoff. If Stanford, for example, beats Notre Dame next week, Sparty controls its fate.

Not bad for a team that "lost" to Nebraska two weeks ago.

This season might still have a pulse.

Brian Leigh covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @BLeigh35


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.