Michigan State football: ‘Winning culture’ will carry defending B1G champion Spartans
CHICAGO -- Just so you know, Mark Dantonio doesn't spend his nights tossing and turning in bed, agonizing over the impending doom of Michigan State's football team.
Sure, Ohio State is the overwhelming favorite to win the Big Ten's East Division. And then there is Michigan, coached by ever-present Jim Harbaugh, which seemed to win the off-season and hopes to ride that momentum to the title.
As for Michigan State, not one of the 39 media members taking part in the preseason poll picked the Spartans to win the East.
"I didn't vote for any of those reporters, either," Dantonio shot back with a gleam in his eye Tuesday at Big Ten Media Days.
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But Dantonio fully understands the media's skepticism of this season's team, given the graduation of quarterback Connor Cook.
"I think when you have a new quarterback situation and you lose a guy like Connor Cook and some of our other players, people tend to: 'Oh, how can they overcome the losses of two All-America linemen, etc.?' " Dantonio said. "The things you have to look at when you look at our program right now is what we've been able to accomplish: the culture -- winning culture. What's our direction? We've got 31 players who have started at some point in time in our program, so I think the room is not barren.
"There's a lot of players there. We'll see how it all shakes out. But I like where we're at. We'll be fine."
Losing a quarterback is tough, but having Gerald Holmes, LJ Scott and Madre London available to line up at tailback tends to make you feel good about your running game.
"Every year there's always a cycle that you go through as a college football team," Dantonio said. "Sometimes you're going to lose your quarterback, sometimes your tailbacks. Look at our tailbacks, we have three outstanding tailbacks back, and really a fourth in Delton Williams who was productive in years past. It's a very healthy position, as healthy as there is in the country, maybe."
But the last time MSU lost a veteran quarterback -- Kirk Cousins following the 2011 season -- the Spartans struggled mightily the following year.
MSU went from consecutive 11-victory seasons with Cousins to a 7-6 season in 2012. MSU lost five games by a total of 13 points, and it was a learning experience for Dantonio and his staff.
"I don't think you ever want that, but I do think at times you need ... just like in the fields, you've got to pull the weeds sometimes," he said. "You're going to have tough times sometimes, and you have to use that to your advantage and become more credible as leaders, performers -- understand there is another side to this, too, and you have to recognize that aspect, too, but we want our players confident."
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As MSU struggled through the 2012 season, Dantonio learned some of the keys to maintaining a winning program no matter who graduates from year to year.
"You have to have your seniors playing their best football every year, and we've had that -- we've definitely had that," he said. "It's our culture. We have to have great facilities to continue on because that will impact our players as far as the way we prepare, and also it impacts recruiting. We've had very solid recruiting classes. I think we bring in a recruiting class that's top 20, so that's going to bear good fruit."
Players come and go, but the best programs continue to win year after year, which MSU has done.
"College football is always about change and what you do with that change," Dantonio said. "So far we've been pretty good, and we'll continue."
Dantonio seemed exasperated at times Tuesday having to explain the continued success of his program despite the presence of Ohio State and U-M.
"I don't know," he said, shaking his head. "We are who are, and right now that's pretty successful -- 24-2 in the conference the last three years."
That is why Dantonio doesn't have to count sheep to fall asleep at night.
"I sleep good at night," he said, again with that gleam in his eye. "I've always slept good. I just have. I go to work, we work hard, we do what we can do, and at the end of that I'm usually too tired to think about it."
This article was written by Mick Mccabe from Detroit Free Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.