Friday, August 22, 2008

Michigan State Preview - Part I - Overview

Finally, the season is upon us. Summer is football gulag, a Siberian tundra of boredom. We wander for months subsisting on stories about spring practice, recruiting, summer workouts, guys getting arrested, coaches moving jobs, and the pundits' pre-season rankings. Worthless nits we'd just as soon ignore were there real games to talk about. But that's all behind us now. We've returned from exile, arrived at the golden door and life can begin again. With that, on to our first opponent.

This is the first installment of a multi-part preview of our first opponent. I'll begin with an overview of the Spartans. The biggest news about this team is its second year coach Mike Dantonio. A former Jim Tressel assistant at Ohio State, Coach Dantonio has already instilled the physical, low-mistake, workmanlike style in this team that has become a Tressel trademark, after just one season. Dantonio also coached defense for five seasons under Nick Saban at Michigan State, so he's worked for some of the best.

Though the Spartans were just 7-6 last season, with a 24-21 bowl loss to Boston College in the Champs Sports Bowl, they lost all 6 games by 7 points or fewer. They were in most of their games until the end, and a play here or there could have meant a victory. Michigan State has long had a history of starting strong and finishing poorly, both in the season and in games, teasing fans with some tough wins, but finishing second to the class of the conference year in and year out. While they have had some marquis players over the years, it has not translated into conference titles the way everyone expected. Is this starting to sound familiar?

However, the thinking surrounding the program, and among virtually every pundit covering this team, is that Dantonio is changing all that. He is a defensive guy, and has built this team around a tenacious, hard-nosed, no-nonsense style. He has his guys believing they can beat anyone, and has already put together quite an impressive recruiting class. Sound like any other coach you know? The question in everyone's mind, and the one the team and Dantonio want to answer on opening day in Berkeley, is can they take the next step?

One last interesting tidbit on Dantonio, one which I think highlights where he and Tedford diverge completely from one another (and what makes Tedford such a class act). In what is now a famous (or infamous if you are a Spartan) jab at last year's Michigan State team, ex-Michigan RB Mike Hart described the Spartans as the "little brother" after Michigan came back from 10 down with 7:40 left to steal a victory over their rivals:

"Sometimes you get your little brother excited when you're playing basketball and you let him get the lead. Then you come back and take it from him."

It was a demoralizing loss for the Spartans, and that comment had Spartan Nation in an uproar. To make matters worse, the Wolverines have owned the Spartans for years, and the Spartans have a complex about it.

Well, Dantonio couldn't let it go. Here was his response in post-game press conference, giving us a little taste of who we're up against next weekend:


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