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 "Back-to-Back Winning Seasons and Bowl Appearances Say..." 
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Post "Back-to-Back Winning Seasons and Bowl Appearances Say..."
Back-to-Back Winning Seasons and Bowl Appearances Say Michigan State Is Back
by: Ed Bagley

When Mark Dantonio became the new Michigan State University football coach two years ago, he came to the East Lansing Campus with a pedigree that shouted success is on the way. He has not disappointed the Spartan faithful.

Michigan State had not done diddly-squat since its 1999 team went 10-2, whipped Florida in the Citrus Bowl, led the Big Ten in total defense, and ranked 7th in the final polls. Times have changed in East Lansing. If diddly-squat shows up since Dantonio has arrived, he is in for a fight.

Here is what Dantonio has accomplished since his debut 55-18 victory against UAB (the University of Alabama at Birmingham):

Turn a losing program into a winning one by going 7-5 in his first regular season, and getting Michigan State its first bowl appearance in 4 years. Despite being a 5-point underdog to No. 14-ranked Boston College in the Champs Sports Bowl, the Spartans only lost by a field goal, 24-21.

Their final 7-6 record included a 4-3 mark against bowl-bound teams, and the Spartans lost the 6 games by a total of 31 points, including two in overtime. All 6 games were decided by 7 points or less. It is called defense.

With their 31-14 victory over the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame on the road in 2007, the Spartans became the first visiting team to win 6-straight games in the 77-year history of Notre Dame Stadium.

Last year the progress continued as the Spartans went 9-3 in the regular season, beating Michigan and Notre Dame. They lost at California in their opener 38-31, took it on the chin 45-7 against No. 12-ranked Ohio State at home, and let No. 7-ranked Penn State take it to them 49-18 on the road at Happy Valley.

Had they beaten Penn State, they would have had a share of the Big Ten title. Michigan State's 6-2 Big Ten record was its best since the 1999 season, and its 9 wins represented only the 3rd time since 1966 (the year I graduated from Michigan State) that it had won 9 games in a season. Last season's second step forward led to the No. 19-ranked Spartans facing off against the No. 16-ranked Georgia Bulldogs in the Capital One Bowl; State lost 24-12. Nevertheless, they ended the year with their second straight winning season (7-6 and 9-4)—their first back-to-back winning seasons in 19 years—and their second straight bowl appearance—their first back-to-back bowl appearances in 12 years.

That is what is calling "getting after it".

Dantonio really became prominent as the defensive coordinator for Ohio State, where his defensive unit helped the Buckeyes to a 32-6 record in 3 years, and the 2002 National Championship. In the championship year, Ohio State was 2nd nationally in scoring defense (13 points a game) and 3rd in rushing defense (77 yards per game).

Coming into this season, Michigan States loses two All Big Ten seniors—tailback Javon Ringer and safety Otis Wiley, and returns All Big Ten junior linebacker Greg Jones.

To say Ringer left a hole in the running game would be a gross understatement. He rushed for 1,637 yards (accounting for 97% of Michigan State's rushing offense) and scored a school-record 22 touchdowns. Ringer, a consensus All American, was drafted by the NFL's Tennessee Titans.

Ringer's starting spot will be a competitive battle that just may be won by either of two outstanding freshmen—Edwin Baker out of Oak Park High School in Highland Park, or Larry Caper out of Battle Creek Central in Battle Creek. Baker is 5-9 and 200, and Caper is 5-11 and 215. Both are potentially explosive runners with some speed.

Replacing senior quarterback Brian Hoyer, an inconsistent 2-year starter, is also an issue. Sophomore Kirk Cousins and redshirt sophomore Keith Nichol have limited experience, appearing in only a combined 8 games.

All Big Ten junior Greg Jones had 127 tackles last year, and is arguably the best linebacker in the Big Ten. He must remain tough and healthy for Michigan State to again compete for the Big Ten title.

The Spartan offense will also rely heavily on kicker Brett Swenson (22 field goals last year, including one last-minute, game-winner on a weak offense); wide receivers Blair White, Mark Dell and BJ Cunningham; tight end Charlie Gantt; guard Joel Foreman and center Joel Nitchman.

Dantonio's two recruiting classes must produce more new faces on the field this year. New faces better than the players they will replace. In its two biggest games of the year last season—Ohio State and Penn State—Michigan State did not show well and paid for it when the Preseason Coaches' Top 25 Poll found them absent.

Major coaches generally applauded the fact that the Spartans did not take a dive late last season, they won many games they have lost in prior years, but when push came to shove, it was still Ohio State and Penn State on top of the heap.

What many boosters may have missed is the fact that Michigan State took one huge step forward in bowl participation. Two years ago they had to settle for the Champs Sports Bowl and a $2.25 million payout. Last year they moved up to the Capital One Bowl and a $4.25 million payout. After the 5 BCS bowl games, the Capital One Bowl is the highest paying and most prestigious of the remaining 34 bowl games played last season.

Michigan State's schedule is favorable this year. The Spartans get both Michigan and Penn State at home, and do not play Ohio State. They also play 1-AA Montana State, Central Michigan and Western Michigan. If they cannot beat the latter three teams and Michigan, they have no business going to a bowl game.

On a more positive note, while virtually everyone West of the Mississippi River thinks Michigan State could not possibly run the table, there is at least one Spartan in Washington State who thinks otherwise. Never underestimate what Mark Dantonio can accomplish.

What if the Spartans beat Notre Dame, Michigan and the rest, and face Penn State at home with an 11-0 mark? That is why college football is so great. It could happen. The odds say it will not happen, but rest assured that if Michigan State plays in a BCS bowl game this season, it will be another giant step forward for Mark Dantonio and his Spartans.

Copyright © 2009 Ed Bagley

About The Author
Read more of my football coverage, including:
"Not Being Selected Among the Top 25 in the Preseason Coaches' Poll Is the Kiss of Death - You Have No BCS Title Shot"
Individual Articles on All 34 of College Football's 2008 Bowl Games.
15 Weekly Wrap-Up Articles on College Football's 2008 Regular Season Games.

The author invites you to visit:

Copyright © 2001-Present
[Note: Due to a size limitation, the title, above, had to be abbreviated. Apologies to the author and - Admin]
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Sun Feb 20, 2011 11:12 am
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