When Mark Dantonio became the head football coach of the Michigan State Spartans in 2007, he vowed to make his program a consistent contender in the Big Ten Conference. In Dantonio’s first season at Michigan State, he led the Spartans to their first bowl game in four years. Michigan State’s bowl appearance would be a signal of good things to come for the Spartans as they would rattle off nine consecutive trips to a bowl game. Included in that run for Michigan State was five seasons in which they won at least 11 games, three consecutive top ten finishes in the Associated Press Poll, a pair of Big Ten Championships, a Rose Bowl victory, and an appearance in the College Football Playoff. But Dantonio’s biggest accomplishment has been the dominance that his program has enjoyed over their in-state rivals in the Michigan Wolverines.
The Wolverines are considered to be one of college football’s blue blood programs and their dominance within the Big Ten over the years has typically come at the expense of Michigan State. But that has not been the case recently as following a 28-24 comeback victory by the Wolverines in 2007, Dantonio took exception to the post game comments of former Michigan running back Mike Hart who considered Michigan State to be Michigan’s “little brother”. Since then Michigan State has only lost twice to Michigan which included getting a 14-10 victory last month in Ann Arbor. Michigan has found out the hard way that it is no longer a formality that they’ll beat Michigan State as this a team that you’ll have to pack a lunch for in order to defeat. And packing that lunch isn’t a guarantee of getting a victory as the theme for this program under Dantonio has been “Spartan Tough”.
It was a rough go in 2016 for Michigan State as they finished 3-9 for their worst season since 1991. The Spartans were also only able to win one game within the Big Ten last season. But in typical Michigan State fashion they have bounced back in a big way this year.
The victory over Michigan last month signaled that the Spartans were back, while they helped to solidify that by upsetting the Penn State Nittany Lions at home this past Saturday. Michigan State’s conference record of 5-1 currently has them in first place in the Big Ten East, and with the Ohio State Buckeyes being upset this past Saturday at the hands of the Iowa Hawkeyes, the Spartans control their own destiny in order to qualify for the conference championship game next month.
The toughness for the Spartans begins on defense as they are ranked 12th in the nation in the total defense. Sophomore linebacker Joe Bachie leads the team in tackles with 77, while as team Michigan State has been stingy on third down as opponents are only converting on 30.7% of their opportunities. Michigan State has also kept it close to the chest on offense as they are 63rd in the nation in total offense, but they have found a way to be sixth in time of possession as they know how to play keep away from their opponents.
Unlike Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State, Dantonio doesn’t consistently get the five-star recruits to come to East Lansing, but he does find players that will fit into his system which includes them doing whatever it takes in order to win.
So now as Michigan State is sitting on an overall record of 7-2, they control their own destiny in order to win the Big Ten for the third tine under Dantonio. A victory over Ohio State would put the Spartans in a good position to win the Big Ten East. And although that it won’t be easy, the Spartans won’t be intimidated by having to go to Columbus due to the fact that they’ve won their last two road games versus the Buckeyes.
In 2007, Dantonio got to work in order to make the Spartans a consistent contender, and he did the same following a disastrous 2016. After the Spartans poor campaign last year, it appeared that they were ready to concede power in the Big Ten East to Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State. But Dantonio and his team have foiled the plans of the people who spoke prematurely of their demise.