Michigan State's path to a spot in the initial College Football Playoff will need to go through the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis, and that's the way coach Mark Dantonio thinks it should be.
Dantonio said he doesn't think teams should be able to duck top competition in a conference championship setting and qualify for one of the four playoff spots. He sees the potential for teams to try to game the system and avoid league titles to get a better shot at making it to the national stage.
"We can't say, 'Hey, let's try and go 11-1 and not be in the championship game, and then we'll get into the playoffs.' I don't think it should work like that. That's just my opinion," Dantonio said at his weekly news conference Tuesday morning. "My vision is that you should be the champion of your league before you can be the champion of the country. That would be my vision if I was doing it. It might not happen like that."
The Spartans' playoff chances took a hit in their second game of the season when they traveled to No. 2 Oregon and lost. That loss, combined with a down year for the Big Ten in conference play, puts Michigan State (2-1) in an uphill battle to earn one of the four coveted playoff spots in January.
Dantonio's team likely will need to win out and hope the 13-member playoff committee rewards it for taking the risk to play a top-tier opponent on the road in September.
Dantonio acknowledged that to those outside the program, the "playoff or bust" attitude might create some unfair expectations. He said the value of winning a Big Ten championship hasn't decreased at all in his mind or for his players.
"We need to win the Big Ten championship. That's our goal. Then you springboard past that," he said. "Maybe it is like basketball a little bit where if you don't get to the Final Four, maybe it's not as successful."
He doesn't have to look far for advice on how to deal with those high expectations. Dantonio says he has talked regularly with Spartans basketball coach Tom Izzo, who has made six trips to the NCAA Final Four, about dealing with the extra pressure of high expectations in East Lansing.
Dantonio said they have not talked specifically about what playing for a spot in the national semifinals does to those expectations.
Michigan State hosts Wyoming on Saturday in its final nonconference tuneup before starting its Big Ten schedule the following week.