A New Rivalry
12:59 left, in the first quarter. Mike Hart was rumbling down the right sideline, stiff-arming #22 before finally being brought down at the four-yard line. The next play, he got it in. Four rushes, 11.5 yards a carry for the senior. Michigan was leading Appalachian State, 7-0, in the first game of his, Chad Henne's, and Jake Long's seniors seasons. They had come back to take care of business, as it were. No wins over Ohio State, no wins in a bowl game. Their plan was to take home a national championship, something they had come so very close to a year before. What they didn't know, was this would be Lloyd Carr's last hurrah as well.
Three plays later, a Southern Conference 200-meter dash champion was racing to the end zone, one of four touchdowns in the half for the Mountaineers. With twelve minutes to go in the second quarter, Austin Panter hit an ASU kick returner out of bounds out of frustration. Then, with 7 minutes to go, Lloyd Carr chose to go for it on 4th and 5, leading to Henne getting wolloped by a defensive lineman. Both times, those decisions gave ASU short field position and another touchdown. Michigan kept unraveling, and an injury to Mike Hart didn't help. Their spread attack was forcing Michigan into its nickel packages, and playing from behind forced Michigan into more obvious passing situations. With two minutes left in the half, App State led 28-14. The first game at the Big House after their #1-#2 loss to Ohio State was turning out to be no better.
While the Wolverines played much better in the second half, they also had two field goals blocked in the final two minutes, and Carr went for another 4th and 5 and tried two different 2-point conversions, all of which failed. Mike Hart came back late in the third quarter, and had another, unbelievable 54-yard run that gave Michigan their last touchdown. But it wasn't enough.
"We were not a well-prepared team," said Lloyd Carr afterward. "That is my job, and I take full responsibility."
Elsewhere around the country, fans took notice. People wondered if Carr should have retired the year before, a sentiment that was amplified the next game, when Michigan lost, 39-7, to Oregon. After that, something did finally wake up in the Wolverines, and they either won against ranked teams or by double digits in each of the next seven games. They went into Spartan Stadium ranked.
After the Appalachian State game, reporters asked the Michigan State coach, first-year head coach Mark Dantonio, about his thoughts. The Spartans were optimistic about the Dantonio hire, a coach who'd gone 18-17 at Cincinnati but also won a championship with Ohio State in 2002. Dantonio had plenty on his mind - namely, bringing back a 4-8 program into relevancy - and even after a win against UAB, reporters were asking him about Michigan. His response was salty. "Should we have a moment of silence?" he asked them.
Dantonio's squad was 5-4 heading into the Michigan game, with two of those losses by a combined 10 points to top-10 teams. And against Michigan, they led by ten midway through the fourth. As that Wolverines team tended to do, they tried turning it on late, and came from behind thanks to two touchdown passes from Henne. Immediately upon the conclusion of the 100th meeting between these two programs, which the Wolverines led 67-28-5, Hart and his teammates gathered at midfield in Spartan Stadium and had a moment of silence for the defeated Michigan State team.
"I find a lot of the things that they do amusing," when asked if he thought it was amusing. "They need to check themselves sometimes. But, just remember, pride comes before the fall." Mark Dantonio was stone-faced, but he was angry enough to sputter over some of his words. Under Dantonio, the first thing that Michigan State would do was stand up to Michigan. Rivalries, sometimes dormant, seem to breathe life into a program when it finally decides to stand up and take it back. For the Spartans, they had been a .500 squad since Duffy Daugherty left in 1972 (and really, since their last championship in 1966). They were secondary to Michigan in every way, yet after giving up 28 points in that 2007 loss, the Spartans surrendered 21, 20, 17, 14, 12, and then 6 points every year since. And at last check, they are the #3 team in the nation.
It's brought a new side to the rivalry that has historically been one-sided and even unfair. When they first started playing, Michigan State was known as State Agricultural College, and the games were as mismatched as it sounds. MSU won only two of the first 28 contests, and their second time playing against us, they lost 119-0. From 1916 to 1933, Michigan never lost and only surrendered 15 points. By 1949, Michigan and MSU had played 42 times over 51 years, and State (now the Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science) had won just 6 games. Michigan State did, in a way, grow up much later than Michigan.
However, since 2008, the years that both fan bases and the media really care about, Michigan is just 1-5, and has gone 41-35 overall to State's 57-23. Michigan entered the MSU game ranked in each of the last five seasons, but left it with a loss in four of them. Meanwhile, financially, Spartan Stadium has benefited from a $64 million renovation completed in 2005, with another $34.5 million in upgrades scheduled. To top it off, more in-state recruits, and more in the top five, headed to Sparty in the last recruiting cycle. The worst part, though, is that they managed to do this with one brilliant coach and a whole lot of three-star guys. That's been their recipe.
Most noticeably, there are the quarterbacks. Kirk Cousins and Connor Cook have combined to go 39-13 in games they started, including 4-0 against Michigan. However, there was another quarterback who came to Michigan State the same year as Cousins, who is now a star in the NFL: Nick Foles. He transferred after a year to Arizona, spent four years there and then headed for the Philadelphia Eagles. Foles is much more an example of State's scouting abilities than its player development, but Foles even credits MSU there: "You've got to realize, you're 18 years old. You're young. When I look back on my life... one of the years where I really grew up and matured - was Michigan State."
There has been a lot more to Michigan State than its quarterbacks, though. They have Shilique Calhoun, who was a three-star kid out of New Jersey. Jerel Worthy is now in the league after being drafted in the 2nd round by Green Bay in 2012, and he has made it back to give Calhoun a few tips and support. Keshawn Martin was drafted in the 4th round the next day, and Chris McDonald and Anthony Rashad White have spent time in the NFL, as well. They were all three-star recruits.
The Spartans' leading receiver in 2013 was Bennie Fowler, a senior with 642 total yards that year and 1,351 for his career. Jeremy Langford put up 1,422 yards rushing to go with 18 touchdowns. Dan France, Fou Fonoti, and Jack Allen combined for 85 starts on the offensive line. Denicos Allen was All-Big Ten Second Team in 2013, for the second time. Johnny Adams was two-time All-Big Ten, too. Linebacker Greg Jones was a three-time All-Big Ten first team and Defensive Player of the Year in 2009. B.J. Cunningham ended his career as the all-time school leader in receptions (218) and receiving yards (3,086), good for seventh and ninth in Big Ten history, after starting 42 games from 2008-2011. All these guys were Rivals three-stars.
Le'Veon Bell ran for 3,346 yards in college on 5.0 yards per carry in college, then left Michigan State after three years to be a starting NFL back. Trenton Robinson was drafted by San Francisco in the 6th round. Kevin Pickelman started 18 games on the defensive line from 2008-2011, and both Darqueze Dennard and Trae Waynes were the stars of MSU's No-Fly Zone. They were all two-stars. And every one of these young men spent their whole college career with Dantonio.
Dantonio has been around the B1G for a while. Like many coaches, he started out as a graduate assistant, first at Ohio University, then Purdue and Ohio State University, before being hired by Jim Tressel at Youngstown State University to help coach defensive backs. When he took over as defensive coordinator, YSU went 11-0 and finished #2 in the nation in FCS. Nick Saban hired him in 1995 to join the Spartans, where Dantonio stayed for 6 years and presumably slow-cooked his hatred for Michigan. Finally, after a short stint at OSU as defensive coordinator, which included a national championship, and another as the head coach of Cincinnati, the Mark Dantonio era at MSU was underway.
And Dantonio, coming into MSU, knew how to take advantage of it. He recruited players who had been denied respect. Denicos Allen, Isaiah Lewis, and Delton Williams all cited Ohio State as their dream school, but they never got the chance to play for them. Dantonio also took risks on guys who had injuries. Gerald Holmes broke his ankle his junior year, so recruiting sites didn't scout him as much - similarly with Trey Kilgore and Kirk Cousins. They also put more time into finding players who were committed to working hard, and showed versatility - getting everything from basketball players to class presidents. They also picked up on who local schools were recruiting, and kept a keen eye out.
Their secret ingredient, though, has been finding athletes and then teaching them positions based on the team's needs and their strengths. Mijacah Reynolds, Jeremy Langford, Dan France, Tyler Hoover, Joel Heath, Donald Spencer, Blake Treadwell... Michigan State switches players between positions more than any other program I've seen, and are elite football teachers to be able to make it happen.
Take, for example, Montez Sweat, a 2014 two-star commit for the Spartans. He's a raw, 6'6" player from Georgia listed as a tight end. From conversations between him and Michigan State coaches, though, they knew he'd enjoy a switch to defense: "Little did they know, given the choice I'd rather hit than get hit." Now the Spartans have a 6'6" athlete learning to be a pass rusher off the edge - a person who's doing the footwork drills his coaches have suggested he'd do, because he already knows he needs to work hard.
And why does he work so hard? Yes, for personal success. But he trusts and respects his coaches. Dantonio has been known for using some 4th-down trickery, and he's said part of the advantage of it is a statement of confidence and trust in his players. They reciprocate, and together the team wins. Essentially, the Spartans got to the top by being elite at scouting, being excellent communicators and motivators, and finding hard workers and establishing a culture that was essentially the opposite of the 2007 Michigan team, that would find itself coasting on talent. It's an amazing formula, and hard to replicate. And it also makes for some damn good football.
Hitting the Links Loves the 4th Quarter
David Boston was a terrific Ohio State receiver - one of the best in their history. He also contributed to two of the most deeply iconic images in the rivalry. And, more than that, he did it in one game. At the beginning of the 1997 game, David starts a fight with Charles Woodson - the soon-to-be Heisman winner. Don't worry, Boston got a little comeuppance later on.
"If you have an opportunity to compete against the best, you can become the best. You have the opportunity to measure up." Michigan State did it against us. Now we get to see what we're made of.
I highly recommend this article from ESPN's Big Ten blog about Iowa and their recruiting. Generally, if you're successful enough (which Iowa has been), you can go up a tier in college football's world. That can mean a culture change as well, but it doesn't have to. To be honest I think Iowa has a near-perfect formula, but some more speed at running back, corner, and maybe receiver could take them to another level. But it's tough to beat their tight ends.
Collin Klein to join Bill Snyder's staff at Kansas State
Bret Bielema and Bob Stoops were once understudies of Snyder, and he has more wins at K-State than every other coach from 1934 combined. He has 177 wins for the Big 12's Wildcats, and the second-most has 37.
BTN-Comcast Deal Already Finished
Perhaps, in ten years, when I finally go to New York, there'll be a bunch of Big Ten fans there. That'll be a nice experience, regardless of anything else.
Penn State Loses Ben Kline to Injury
Football is still a long way away, but I wouldn't be surprised - even if Franklin is a better coach than Bill O'Brien - if the Nittany Lions take a step back this year - five or six wins. Athlon Sports had them as third in the B1G East, but it's a crowded field with Maryland, Indiana, Michigan, MSU, and Ohio State. Each of those teams is playing everybody else in the division, and they're one injury away in so many places. There are three gimme games against Akron (don't say it), Massachusetts, and Temple, but they'll have to earn all the others the hard way.
The most valuable person in Wisconsin football history just so happens to be a good boss, too.
Charlie Weis impressed by turnout
I don't want to pile on when somebody is doing badly, but this is a chance to succinctly sum up Kansas football under Charlie Weis. You may remember him as the Notre Dame coach for five seasons (35-27), but he has called his Kansas team a pile of crap and told recruits, "So if you don't think you can play here, where do you think you can play?" Thaat's how you build a program, Charlie.
Possible Breakout Teams in the SEC
This is a svelte look at four programs who might or might not take a big leap this season relative to expectations.
Oklahoma to receive a $370 million stadium renovation
Apparently this will not add much to seating; it does add a 46,000-square foot plaza, escalators, another stadium video board, encloses the southern end and adds some space to the Barry Switzer Center.
This was one of my favorite pieces to come out of Alligator Army in some time. It's a good click if you're interested in a Florida fan's take on their head coach.
Ranking the Conferences by Tiers
Immediately after its last game with us, Notre Dame will play its last game against Purdue for quite a while in Lucas Oil Stadium. The upshot: 2015 games against Texas and Clemson, 2016 games against Texas, MSU, and Miami, and 2017 against Georgia.
In the fourth quarter, with Michigan holding a 20-14 lead, Boston reaches up for a pass.
1,502 rushing and receiving yards in 2012; 1,430 in ten games in 2013. This will probably be his last year.