Among the more intriguing teams to watch in the Big Ten this upcoming season will be the Michigan State Spartans. Turning in a 3-9 season after collecting 11+ wins in five of the previous six years was eye-opening to many.
And with a very eventful offseason now behind them, those around the conference are anxious to see if last year was just a fluke for the Spartans and head coach Mark Dantonio, or if it is perhaps the beginning of the end of an era in East Lansing.
The consensus, however, seems to be the former and that MSU can bounce back in 2017. During Big Ten Media Days in Chicago this week, a number of head coaches around the league talked about Michigan State and what to expect from them this season.
Among them was Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald, who raved of Dantonio’s success and what he has done at MSU and thinks last year for them was a “complete anomaly.”
“I’ve got a ton of respect from Mark,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve known each other for a long time, we’ve been colleagues as head coaches for a long time. I think he’s built a program on his values and what he believes and I think last year was a complete anomaly.”
No doubt when it comes to on the field, Michigan State has a number of questions regarding player personnel. In addition to the four players that were dismissed from the program last month, the Spartans field a largely young and inexperienced team. Dantonio in fact has drawn comparisons between this year’s team and the 2013 edition that won a Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl.
New Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm will not get to play Dantonio and Michigan State has he joins the Big Ten and looks to revive the Boilermaker program. But he too shared sentiments similar to those of Fitzgerald when talking about Dantonio.
“I think Coach Dantonio is a tremendous coach,” first-year Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said. “He’s been there and done that, he’s well accomplished. I think he’ll find a way to get them back right to where they belong. For whatever reason, last year it didn’t happen. They had some distractions and I’m sure that he’s addressed that and I’m sure he’s going to handle it.”
Dantonio has adamantly been using what happened this offseason surrounding the team as a tool to help “reset” the program along with its culture and values. In fact, his counterparts around the Big Ten have also seen what has gone on from afar and used that to educate their staff and players.
Nebraska head coach Mike Riley was at the forefront of that during Big Ten Media Days this week.
“Every day there are land mines out there, but you can never forget that the No. 1 thing is the education and growth of the kids that are in the program,” Riley said. “I also think, probably selfishly, is that growth will also lead to better football. I think it all actually fits together pretty well.”