Resiliency is the name of the game for the 2015 Michigan State Spartans. For the last four years, all this team has done is win games, hemorrhage NFL talent, and win more games. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz may have been named Big Ten Coach of the Year, it's no stretch to say that the job Mark Dantonio has done in 2015 is every bit as impressive.
The Spartans certainly did not take the easy route here. They were tested against Rutgers, needed a miracle against Michigan and lost a heartbreaker to Nebraska. But they kept their eye on the prize, dethroned Ohio State a few weeks ago and then put together an unforgettable, 22-play drive in the fourth quarter to earn a 16-13 win over the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday.
Now, this team that has fought so hard for 13 games is only two wins away from a national title. Can these Spartans do it? Absolutely, and here are five reasons why.
College Football Podcast: Championship Week Recap
Playoff Teams: No. 1 Clemson I No. 2 Alabama I No. 3 Michigan State I No. 4 Oklahoma
5 Reasons Michigan State Will Win the College Football Playoff
1. Connor Cook
It all starts under center. The Spartans have something none of the other three teams in the Playoff have — a surefire NFL starter at quarterback. Cook is everything you want in a signal-caller. He commands the huddle, has played in and won big games and can make every throw. If the offensive line — led by tackle Jack Conklin and center Jack Allen — gives him time, he'll pick apart any secondary he faces in the Playoff.
2. Aaron Burbridge
Not only do the Spartans have an NFL-caliber signal-caller, they have a future pro as a pass catcher as well. Burbridge is about as dominant a collegiate receiver as there is. He has a big body, strong hands, and deceptive speed that gives him separation downfield. He's also a solid route runner and far and away Connor Cook's favorite target. To beat the Spartans, you must contain Burbridge. Most teams can't, and that's why Michigan State is still playing.
3. R.J. Shelton
Complementing Burbridge in the passing game is Shelton, Michigan State's most dynamic playmaker. Just when you think you've got a bead on Cook and Burbridge locked down, Shelton will pop free on an underneath route and pile up game-changing yards-after-the-catch. He's also one of the best return men in the nation, forcing opponents to game plan for him in two different phases of the game.
4. Shilique Calhoun
Few players in the history of college football have disrupted opposing backfields like Calhoun has. He is quite simply one of the best pass rushers in college football. He does his damage from a three-point stance inside, then will stand up and rush from the edge on the very next play. If your running game depends on off-tackle runs or sweeps, good luck. Calhoun owns his edge against the run.
5. Riley Bullough
It seems like there has been a Bullough playing for Michigan State since the inception of the program. Riley, the young brother of former Spartan great Max, is the emotional leader of the Spartan defense. He and teammate Darien Harris form one of the hardest-hitting linebacker duos you'll see in college football. Bullough is a master at stretching plays to the sideline and cleaning them up once there.