July 29, 2014 at 9:31 pm

Michigan State aims for winning them all in 2014

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, left, is working to keep his assistants until they leave for 'the right job.' (Dale G. Young / Detroit News)

Chicago — Last season, as Michigan State was preparing to face Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game, coach Mark Dantonio stated his team’s case for playing in the national title game.

Tuesday at the Big Ten Media Days, he said he believes his team would have had a shot to win the title if they would have gotten that chance.

But the biggest reason they never got the chance? A loss at Notre Dame in Week 4.

As the Spartans enter this season, another marquee game highlights the nonconference schedule: a Week 2 trip to Oregon.

And last year’s loss at Notre Dame could serve as a reminder to Michigan State just how important a nonconference game is.

“It shows you have to win each and every game,” defensive end Shilique Calhoun said. “Even if it’s not a conference game, you have to win. It shows how it can hurt you down the road.”

It does not, however, mean the Spartans intend to focus on beating only Oregon. Week 1 presents an issue, even if one is not perceived.

Jacksonville State is a regular in the FCS playoffs and brings plenty of experience to Spartan Stadium on Aug. 29.

“You had better take care of game No. 1 first,” Dantonio said. “And after game No. 2, you had better play well because otherwise that Game 2 means nothing, and it will just be a blip on the radar, win or lose.”

Keeping the coaches

In what might have been the most important move of the offseason for Michigan State, defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi turned down an offer to become Connecticut’s coach.

But it wasn’t the only offer Narduzzi had, according to Dantonio.

“He was offered positions, OK?” Dantonio said. “Not just one, he was offered a number of positions.”

Dantonio understands his coaches are becoming hot commodities. But until they land that job, he will do everything in his power to keep them.

To that end, Narduzzi received a significant raise to more than $900,000 a year to remain at Michigan State.

“When the time comes for them to leave, they should leave for the right job,” Dantonio said. “There are a lot of people working extremely hard for us to be successful. One of the indications of that was keeping Pat Narduzzi on our staff. I think our administration anted up.”

Time for bounce-back

Plenty was expected of Lawrence Thomas when he arrived at Michigan State in 2011. He was a five-star linebacker many expected to contribute right away.

But an injury forced a redshirt season, and by 2012 he had moved to offense to play fullback for 13 games. By the next spring, he was back on defense playing on the line, but a back injury kept him out of the first half of the season.

Now, it appears, the time has come for Thomas to perform.

“He’s gonna have to be a guy that is going to be a component there,” Dantonio said of Thomas playing end and tackle. “But it’s time for him to be a starter. He’s too good of an athlete. Whether that’s mental toughness, or whether that’s staying away from injuries, but he’s got talent.”

Conditioning tests set

Dantonio said players will go through conditioning tests Thursday before officially reporting for the start of camp Friday. The first practice is Saturday morning, and the team will have its first workout in pads in the fifth practice, tentatively scheduled for next Wednesday.