Two days before the big college playoff national semifinal game on New Year’s Eve, both the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Michigan State Spartans joined in the Media Day festivities at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio and his team were front and center and answered any and all questions regarding the upcoming game.
Dantonio briefly touched on the keys to success against the stout Alabama defense and how effective his star senior quarterback Connor Cook will need to be:
“I think any football team wants to be balanced. Regardless of where you go in the country, if you see an option football team, they need to throw the ball to be successful as well. I think that goes hand in hand offensively.
The big thing is you don’t want to beat yourselves and make mistakes. You want to make sure you are on the short end of the sticks when it comes to third down or you are putting first downs behind each other, stacking them on top of each other.
That’s who we are. We want to be a balanced football team. I think we have four outstanding tail backs and have got a good offense line and protect our quarterback. Obviously we are going to throw it, too. But I do think there has to be balance.”
Dantonio also took time to speak of the mental toughness of his team, finding a balance of business vs. pleasure when being put in the national spotlight:
“We’ve always gone out of our way to try and make it a life experience for our players regardless of what that is, whether that’s summer camp or whether that’s the College Football Playoff. We really want them to remember these times in their lives because they are transitional times in their life where they are 18 to 22.
When you get done with college, you’re going to hopefully go to the next level. Inevitably, you will go in a different direction, too, at some point in your life very soon after and start working. And these are going to be memories.
This is going to be a life memory for them, one of them. The Cotton Bowl last year was, the Rose Bowl the year before. So our players have enjoyed great success these past couple years, and we’ll hopefully continue that. At the same time, these are life moments and, I think it’s important that they understand that and have fun with it. So we’ve allowed them to do that.”
In their last eight games against AP-ranked top ten opponents, the Spartans are 7-1. They also have been given the perpetual role of ‘underdog‘ over the last handful of years. Over the last handful of years when they have been the underdog according to oddsmakers, the Spartans have won 13 of the last 17 contests. That has not changed this time around, as MSU opened up as double-digit underdog to the Tide.
When Dantonio was asked about being ‘dogs, he replied, “You are only an underdog if you think you are an underdog. We have never played that card.”
One of the underlying storylines of this heavyweight match-up stems back to 2013 when Alabama canceled a home-and-home series with Michigan State scheduled for the 2016 and ’17 seasons. MSU athletic director Mark Hollis has not forgotten that moment, “Well, I guess Nick (Saban) got his way, he got his neutral site game,” Hollis said.
“Do you play six (home games) and then get into a neutral site where you might be able to leverage a financial return?” Hollis said. “But you have to compound that with, what are you taking away from the campus environment?”
“I’m fighting to protect home-and-home (series).” He said.