With every new victory, No. 9 Michigan State (6-1, 2-0 Big Ten) attempts to hammer their point home: They have emerged as a powerhouse in the Big Ten Conference and they aim to keep it that way well into the future.
The Spartans, at times quietly, and at times anything but, have amassed quite an impressive resume that helps solidify their standing as one of the conference’s elite programs. Michigan State has won 17 of their last 20 games under head coach Mark Dantonio. They’ve also defeated 10 of their last 11 Big Ten opponents, including back to back wins over Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
Dantonio and his team head into this weekend’s match up against one of this season’s final obstacles in Nebraska riding a wave of national media recognition and sporting a top ten ranking in the AP poll for the first time this year. Even the BCS has demonstrated it’s faith in the green and white by placing MSU in their top 20 rankings at No. 11 in the country.
When the Spartans hired Mark Dantonio, who is now in his fifth year as the team’s head coach, they made a statement declaring that they sought to become a defensively-minded, rough-and-tumble team. And as we all know, there would be no smiling allowed; especially so by Dantonio himself.
Things are fundamentally different at Michigan State these days. With every new season, the deflated cries of “Same ol’ Spartans” have become fewer and farer between. When the day comes that the phrase becomes nothing more than a bitter memory, Mark Dantonio will have partially-achieved his goal. Until that time, Michigan State will continue to shed it’s image of being a team that blows big leads, struggles with discipline problems off the field, and fails to show up for big games.
Michigan State is by no means a national contender yet; not by far. But their 17-3 record over the last two seasons is their best since the “glory days” of 1965-66. Overall, the team is 39-20 under Dantonio and that record continues to improve. But if the team hopes to begin to establish themselves as a perpetual force on the national stage, they’ll have to smash one of their last remaining “black sheep” statistics: They remain 0-4 in bowl games.
Dantonio himself admitted this week that while his Spartans have become one of the conference’s top-notch programs, they shouldn’t be taken seriously outside of the Big Ten until they can put their days of failure in BCS bowl games behind them. With their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1988 seemingly just over the horizon, MSU may have finally found it’s year to pull away from the pack…and Dantonio knows it.
“The last (two) years, we have competed for the championship on the last day of the season, so we have changed that culture some,” Dantonio said. “I always try to evaluate at the end of the season, so we don’t know where this one is going right now. It’s headed in the right direction. But you don’t want to assume anything.”
You can follow MSU Examiner, Michael Ferro, at twitter.com/MichaelFerro.