MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Michigan State's season hasn't played out the way the Spartans, or any of their opponents, expected.
The last reminder of this not-so-awesome autumn will occur Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium, where already-bowl-eligible Minnesota will greet them.
Yes, one of the conference's two worst teams of the last two years reached six wins two weeks ago, while one of the Big Ten's best two squads over the last two seasons arrived at the final game on the schedule still unsure whether there'll be another one.
Spartans coach Mark Dantonio, for his part, sounded sure. He issued the victory guarantee that college football coaches so rarely utter in this hyper-competitive, heavily scrutinized environment.
"The glass is half full. It's not half empty," Dantonio said, in response to a reporter's question about moral support he's received from basketball coach Tom Izzo. "When we win Saturday — I'll say 'when' — we'll be a 6-6 football team. We're not climbing out of the cellar 2-10. I think everybody needs to understand that."
There is still a scenario in which the Spartans (5-6, 2-5) could land in a bowl game if they lose, since the NCAA has guidelines for considering five-win teams if there aren't enough with six to fill all 70 slots. Entering this week, there were 61 qualifiers and 16 candidates left. But a guessing game is one they'd rather not play. So they're behind their determined coach.
"It means a lot that he has that kind of confidence in us. We have that kind of confidence in ourselves," quarterback Andrew Maxwell said. "We do realize it's the inches and the details that have put us in the position that we're in. We're in a playoff right now. It's win or go home. I think now is the week we need to find the inches, find the details, truly pay attention to them. I think everybody is buying in."
The Spartans had several key players from their last two teams that won 11 games apiece use up their eligibility, with Kirk Cousins, B.J. Cunningham and Jerel Worthy among the notably departed. They began the season 13th in the Associated Press rankings and showed some grit with an opening win against then-No. 24 Boise State, and though the post-Cousins passing attack has sputtered often, their level of competitiveness hasn't slipped at all.
That finishing touch they've had the last two years has been missing, though, in too many of their performances. Five losses in Big Ten play, by a total of 13 points to Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska and Northwestern, are about all one needs to know about this team.