If you're anything like me (and I'm guessing you are, loyal TOC reader) then you probably like ranking things in your life, High Fidelity-style. This is the main reason for this post: attempting to contextualize how big the 17-14 MSU win over Ohio State is in the Dantonio era.
There are a lot of ways to potentially try to rank MSU's wins under Dantonio, and there are a crazy number of those wins to choose from:
Most Dramatic? (Probably Rangers vs. UM in 2015, then Rocket vs. UW in 2011, then Little Giants vs. ND in 2010)
Most Meaningful? (Probably the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game vs. Ohio State to clinch a Big Ten Title and Rose Bowl berth)
Most Dominant? (Well, probably a win over a cupcake, like 73-14 over Eastern Michigan. But the 29-6, -48 yards rushing 2013 game against UM is in there, too)
Most Nationally Relevant? (Rose Bowl 2014 or Cotton Bowl 2015)
Biggest Stakes? (Joe Rexrode makes a good case for this 2015 OSU game)
I wanted to be able to say, outright, that this win was the best win of the Dantonio Era. And by "best" I mean the best overall performance, given the quality of the opponent and where the game was played. I did some of this leg work in a post over the summer using Brian Fremeau's FEI data, and I kind of liked the results (remember, this is pre-2015):
Yes, a couple losses snuck into that Top-10 list of performances, and I'm okay with that. The losses at Oregon and in the 2011 Big Ten Championship were high-quality losses against terrific opponents. Ohio State is currently ranked #6 in Fremeau's FEI rankings (before the game this weekend), checking in with a 0.199 rating. Before this weekend, OSU hadn't played any of the FEI top-30, which held their ranking down to some degree.
You'll notice that there isn't a huge road win on that list before 2015. A beatdown of the Illini isn't that big. The 2012 road win in Madison was nice, but not this nice. Not included in this list is the game this season against Michigan, which at a GFEI of .493 would land that game at #7 on the list. Before today, that was probably the best true road win of the Dantonio Era. Now, this win over an undefeated, defending national champion Ohio State absolutely claims that spot.
You could absolutely argue that this was the best coaching job ever by Dantonio. With Connor Cook ruled out, MSU totally changed the offensive scheme in a week and was relatively effective in doing so. Defensively, MSU held Ohio State to less than 150 yards of total offense. It was a coaching clinic against Urban Meyer, who isn't too bad himself.
There are two problems with boldly claiming this win to be the best of the Dantonio Era, though.
First, we don't know how the rest of Ohio State's season plays out. The 2013 Big Ten Championship Game probably ends up at the top of the list if OSU beats Clemson in that 2014 Orange Bowl. Similarly, if OSU loses to Michigan and/or loses in their bowl game, the win may or may not change in value.
Second, this OSU team was almost certainly a little overrated by the Playoff Committee. Their best win this season remains... Penn State at home? Virginia Tech on the road? Anyways, FEI suggests they aren't as good as they were in 2013 or as good as Stanford was in 2013, even before the loss. So, even though this win was on the road, it may not be quite as high quality as the two wins that capped 2013.
It does make my personal list of best Dantonio wins. My top ten:
1) 2013 Big Ten Championship Game vs. Ohio State
2) 2014 Rose Bowl vs. Stanford
3) 2015 at Ohio State
4) 2015 at Michigan (Rangers)
5) 2011 vs. Wisconsin (Rocket)
6) 2014 Cotton Bowl vs. Baylor
7) 2010 vs. Wisconsin (Criminally underrated, IMO)
8) 2012 Outback Bowl vs. Georgia (3 OT game)
9) 2011 vs. Michigan (#Uniformz)
10) 2010 vs. Notre Dame (Little Giants)