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Michigan State running back L.J. Scott (3) celebrates his touchdown with tackle Cole Chewins (61) against Minnesota during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, in Minneapolis. Michigan State defeated Minnesota 30-27. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)Michigan State running back L.J. Scott (3) celebrates his touchdown with tackle Cole Chewins (61) against Minnesota during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, in Minneapolis. Michigan State defeated Minnesota 30-27. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

Pat Caputo

There’s a tendency to observe Michigan State winning and pass it off on facing mediocre competition.

Certainly P.J. Fleck’s boat at Minnesota is taking on water rather than rowing gently down the stream.

Michigan has severe problems at quarterback and the Wolverines’ offensive line play has been spotty.

Iowa is a one-trick pony. If you stop running back Akrum Wadley, you pretty much stop the Hawkeyes. Western Michigan has rolled up some big numbers, but the Broncos’ offense struggled when they visited East Lansing. Bowling Green is just not a good football team.

The Spartans were routed by Notre Dame, but a case can be made it was because the offense put the defense in such bad field position because of uncharacteristic turnovers.

And so it goes...

RELATED: See photos from U-M’s overtime win in Indiana

Point is, we’ve been here before with the Spartans of Mark Dantonio. They just kind of sneak up on us. They are seldom highly-regarded. That was especially true after the 3-9 debacle in 2016.

The Spartans traditionally aren’t flashy, but at their best just keep winning. It was like that in 2013 when MSU emerged as a national power. It’s the Spartans’ modus operandi to have a chip on the shoulder and an “us against the doubters” mentality. They aren’t good front runners.

PHOTOS: See more images from the Spartan win.

Say the Spartans win this week. Well, it’ll just be Indiana, another offensively-challenged squad. If MSU goes to Northwestern and beats the Wildcats, it’ll be just wait until Penn State visits.

That’s when MSU tends to spring an upset, and the college football world starts to take the Spartans seriously. It’s how it happened not only in ‘13, but ‘14 and to some degree in ‘15.

It still seems improbable. For one thing, Penn State is a lot better than it was during Dantonio’s salad days and the Ohio State game is on the road. The Spartans can run over a team like Minnesota, but what happens when they see a strong defensive front? Can they rely on quarterback Brian Lewerke, and a relatively young receiving corps, to win a game primarily with a passing attack?

READ MORE: Check out Caputo’s take on the underachieving Wolverines.

The Spartans’ defensive front seven appears to be underrated. They’ve spent a lot of time studying and changing the way they tackle, and it is paying off. This has looked a lot more like a typical Dantonio team than last year’s flag football edition.

Maybe, after a painfully slow start in which he had a severe cause of the fumbles, MSU’s most-talented player, running back L.J. Scott, is getting his act together. He was impressive while ripping off 194 yards against the Gophers in a 30-27 victory.

Sure, it got a little dicey at the end of the game. At their best, the Spartans put away teams, not let them get back in it.

The ending of the Minnesota game was less than ideal, but it would have taken a miracle type of finish to lose it.

Let’s put it this way: If somebody told you in August that MSU would be 5-1 overall and 3-0 in the Big Ten during the first half of the season, would you have believed them?

Frankly, I wouldn’t have.

You have to give Dantonio and his staff credit. They seem to have the ship righted much sooner than anticipated, if it was expected at all.

Knit-picking about the opposition doesn’t change that. It’s difficult to imagine a better start for the Spartans.

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