This isn’t the Michigan State team we’re used to seeing.
MSU has finished sixth, fifth and third in the nation the past three seasons while winning 36 of 41 games. But this year, the Spartans (2-4, 0-3) are in danger of not gaining bowl eligibility after four straight losses.
Still ahead on the schedule are home games with No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan and a road trip to Penn State.
“The bar has been set very high here and rightfully so,” coach Mark Dantonio said. “We need to deal with it and get on with it. We’ve got enough good players to put a good football team on the field and win.
“I’m never going to say we’re not good enough.”
Graduations, injuries and defections in both lines have slowed Michigan State, and the quarterback job has been thrown open among three players at midseason. Those aren’t the usual signs from a regular title contender.
Nor was giving up 54 points at home Saturday to Northwestern, the most ever at Spartan Stadium. The last team to hang 50 points on MSU at home was Nebraska in 1995 when Nick Saban coached the Spartans.
“If you coach long enough, you’ll see it all,” Dantonio said, noting that he had a difficult year while coaching at Cincinnati after some early success. The freshmen on that team ended up winning a Big East title and playing in the Orange Bowl.
“You just keep drawing on your experience, keep working whether you are a senior or freshman or in between,” Dantonio said. “You have to remain positive.
“I told my players the other day, we’re walking down a long road, and there’s no place to stop and eat. You’ve got to keep walking or running. There’s no turning back. And sometimes it’s a lonely road.”
Meyer not happy with penalty
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer drew a 15-yard penalty for sideline interference Saturday night at Wisconsin when an official accidentally hit Meyer in the head as the official swung his arm to indicate the clock should run.
“He barely grazed my headset,” Meyer said. “It should not have been a penalty. That broke my heart, to put your players in a 15-yard penalty for that in a big game.
“Some will say, ‘Well, that’s just the rule.’ Get rid of the damn rule. That’s not a good rule.”
Players of the week
» Co-Offense: Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett and Northwestern tailback Justin Jackson. Barrett, a junior from Wichita Falls, Texas, accounted for 318 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Wisconsin. Jackson, a junior from Carol Stream, Illinois, ran for a career-high 188 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Michigan State.
» Defense: Wisconsin linebacker Jack Cichy. The junior from Somerset, Wisconsin, had a career-high 15 tackles, including 3.5 for loss, in a loss to Ohio State.
» Special teams: Northwestern wide receiver Solomon Vault. The junior from Gaithersburg, Maryland, returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown in a win over Michigan State.
» Freshman: Illinois safety Patrick Nelson. The Chicago product had 14 tackles in a win over Rutgers.
Bits and pieces
» Iowa isn’t expecting senior tight end George Kittle to play much Saturday because of an injury. That means true freshman Noah Fant out of Omaha South should get heavy playing time, as he did last Saturday at Purdue.
» Minnesota starting quarterback Mitch Leidner (concussion) will miss a second straight game Saturday. Fourth-year junior Conor Rhoda will get his second start, against Rutgers.
» Rutgers will start a new quarterback, too. Senior Chris Laviano has been benched for redshirt sophomore Gio Rescigno.