Mark Dantonio is not bitter. It's important to understand that. The Michigan State coach understands the unfairness of a no-college-football-playoff world. He believes last year's Spartans deserved a national title shot; that they could have won if if they, rather than Auburn, had played Florida State in the final BCS showdown.
That didn't happen.
“I thought we would have been national champions,” he said during the Big Ten media gathering in Chicago. “I felt that. We could have played in that game and been very competitive. We were playing great football. We were believing in ourselves. We beat a team that was undefeated (Ohio State). I'm just making a case. That's all.”
Spartan quarterback Connor Cook feels that pain.
“You're watching Auburn and Florida State play, and it's like, 'You know what? If we were playing either team, we could have won.'”
For the record, Florida State rallied to edge Auburn 34-31. Also for the record, Michigan State finished 13-1 and won its last 10 games behind a powerhouse defense and a rapidly improving offense. It won all nine of its Big Ten games by at least 10 points, including a 34-24 victory over Ohio State in the conference title game. It ended with a 24-20 win over Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
Auburn finished 12-2 and needed improbable last-second victories over Georgia and Alabama to make the BCS title game.
“They were in a similar situation to us,” Dantonio said. “They came out of the blue, too.”
“But we could have played in that game. It doesn't matter now.”
What does matter is major college football now has a playoff, and if it's only four teams, it still doubles the opportunity. That means something, Dantonio said.
“It enhances the games. It will be very exciting with the Final Four situation.”
As far as a push to make it an eight-team playoff, well, give it time.
“Somebody is always going to feel left out,” Dantonio said. “The No. 5 team will. The margin between No. 1 and No. 10 is very slim. It's a step in the right direction.”
The direction will be guided by a 13-person selection committee that includes Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, former NFL quarterbacks Archie Manning and Oliver Luck (now the West Virginia athletic director and father of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck), former Nebraska coach and athletic director Tom Osborne, and former U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice .
“The quality of people on the selection committee is very impressive,” Dantonio said. “The way they've managed it, not allowing them to vote for a particular team or conference based on their past affiliation, is a great idea. The fact they're starting in Week 6 with their own poll is a positive as well.
“Everybody will always have a question -- why did they do this or that? Everybody will always have some negative feelings about it. It's my belief they're trying to do the best they can to formulate a great plan and decide a champion.”
How likely is Michigan State, or any Big Ten team, to make the Final Four? The Spartans, who should be much better offensively now that Cook has experience, are ranked No. 8 in the USA Today coaches' preseason poll, two spots behind Big Ten-rival Ohio State, adding early fuel to their much-anticipated Nov. 8 showdown in East Lansing.
Florida State, by the way, is an overwhelming No. 1 with 56 of the 62 first-place votes.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said there isn't any reason why a Big Ten team can't make the Four Four, although the league's national reputation has taken a hit over the last decade with the dominance of the SEC, and better bowl play by the Pac-12, Big 12 and now ACC. The Big Ten's last national title came in 2002 from Ohio State.
The Spartans can make a strong early case with their Sept. 6 game at No. 4 Oregon. A victory could make them an early Final Four frontrunner -- ahead of Ohio State, which lacks that kind of non-conference powerhouse opportunity.
In the end, that might make all the difference.