When Maryland travels to East Lansing, Mich., this weekend to face Michigan State, the Terps know they're going to face a Spartans squad in an interesting predicament.
Late Saturday night, Michigan State fell to Nebraska, 39-38, on a controversial call on a late touchdown pass, where the officials elected not to call a penalty that would have wiped out the result.
The loss was Michigan State's first of the season and knocked them all the way from No. 6 to No. 14 in the Associated Press top 25 and from No. 7 in the first College Football Playoff rankings to No. 13 in the ranking released Tuesday night.
So with Maryland visiting Spartan Stadium on Saturday, Michigan State will be working to claw its way back into the playoff picture or hoping to avoid a late season collapse.
"We've discussed the fact that they're a team that just had a tough loss for their program and that they're a team that was in the talks for the College Football Playoff," Terps interim coach Mike Locksley said Tuesday. "With last week's loss, there's two ways teams respond to a loss like that: They either come out with a pretty mean attitude or disposition, or it could linger. Knowing how they're coached, I would anticipate the first being the case."
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has built Michigan State into one of the most consistent programs in the Big Ten Conference and nationally this decade. Since 2010, the Spartans have won 61 games, which is the seventh-most among Football Bowl Subdivision teams and the most in the Big Ten. They've had unquestioned success, but it hasn't come without struggles.
The week before Michigan State visited Maryland last November, the Spartans were beaten by Ohio State, 49-37, in prime time. That defeat had similar ramifications as the loss to Nebraska. While Michigan State still qualified for a New Year's Six bowl — the Spartans pulled off an epic comeback against Baylor in the Cotton Bowl — it pushed the team far out of playoff contention.
The Spartans came to College Park and rebounded from their defeat with a 37-15 rout over the Terps.
"Well, I just think it's another opportunity to prove yourself," Dantonio told reporters Tuesday. "Another opportunity to say, 'OK, we got knocked down, we're getting up off the mat, we're playing.' That's what we did last year. We had to go and play after a very disappointing game. We had to get back up and play, and that's what we did. I think there's something to be said for that."
Michigan State is the latest tough opponent for Maryland during a grueling season in the Big Ten East division. While they fell out of the top 10, the Spartans are the fourth team in the past six games to be ranked at the time of their matchup with the Terps. Wisconsin, which beat the Terps, 31-24, last weekend, entered the AP poll at No. 23 this week.
"It's going to be a good experience," wide receiver DeAndre Lane said. "They're coming off a big loss, so we know they're going to come fired up. We're going to have to come out, hit them in the mouth early and prove we're ready to play."
While Maryland's bowl hopes were extinguished with its seventh loss of the season against Wisconsin, Michigan State is still looking to land a marquee matchup in late December or early January. The Terps have the chance to play spoiler. For a team that has touted the opportunities it has had this season, Saturday is yet another for Maryland.
"Obviously they're coming off a tough loss to Nebraska," quarterback Shane Cockerille said. "It can give them one or two ways for them. They can be down, and we can come in and surprise them, or they can fight back because we're going to come in, and we're going to try to punch them in the mouth first. They can obviously do it right back to us."