Michigan State has spent the last few months basking in the glow of a Big Ten championship and a victory in the Rose Bowl. Or, at least, that's what it has done publicly.

Behind closed doors, the Spartans insist the focus on 2014 began on the plane back from Pasadena.

The Spartans are on a mission to prove they belong, that last season's success was simply the latest step in a progression toward national prominence. In fact, their coach is convinced if the College Football Playoff existed last season, Michigan State would have been the champions.

"I thought we would have been national champions to be perfectly honest with you," Mark Dantonio said. "I think we would have had a shot to do that because I think we were playing, coming out of the end of the season -- that stretch coming out of the season -- we were playing great football and we were believing in ourselves. Were we there at the beginning of the season? No. But coming out we were playing our best football in November and then into the championship game and then the Rose Bowl."

There is little doubting how well Michigan State was playing at the time, and victories over Ohio State and Stanford certainly helped prove that.

But there is still doubt about Michigan State heading into 2014. It could be as much about how long it takes to change perception in college football as it is about the fact the Spartans are replacing six starters on the No. 2 defense in the nation.

Either way, it's the Buckeyes who are the favorite in the eyes of most observers and the Spartans intend to use it to their advantage.

"It's more than a little bit of a chip (on our shoulder)," senior safety Kurtis Drummond said. "But it's on us to put in our work and handle our business. Any added fuel is good, but we do a great job of being self-motivated."

Added junior defensive end Shilique Calhoun, "We may have a little more respect but we're still underdogs. I think someone mentioned to me Ohio State is favored to win the Big Ten championship. I consider that an underdog. We can use that to our advantage and focus on being the best no matter what."

Dantonio hasn't focused much on the fact his team is being picked against. After all, they enter the season as a top-10 team nationally. Instead, he has pushed his team to "handle success" and not feel at all entitled after last season.