October 20, 2010 at 3:27 pm

John Niyo

Survey says: Spartans coach Mark Dantonio no poll fan

Mark Dantonio on facing  Northwestern
Mark Dantonio on facing Northwestern: Spartans' coach says this week's opponent is "well coached, well conditioned' and 'cutting edge on special teams'

East Lansing -- Mark Dantonio doesn't want to talk about the polls. Michigan State's coach would prefer not to think about them, either.

But every week, he has no choice, especially now that his undefeated Spartans are entering what he accurately described Tuesday as "uncharted territory." At 7-0 and sitting alone atop the Big Ten, Michigan State is seventh in the first Bowl Championship Series rankings, released last weekend.

And if you believe Dantonio, he only "heard about that (the No. 7 ranking) Monday," having slept through all the thunder and lightning in East Lansing.

"I refrained from looking at that on Sunday night," he said. "I just want to stay focused."

That's the goal now, for Dantonio and Michigan State, which ventures across state lines Saturday for the first time this season, facing a 5-1 Northwestern team that always seems to give it fits.

A huge game at Iowa looms the following week.

After that, the remaining schedule includes home games against Minnesota and Purdue, followed by the season-ending trip to Penn State.

So, yes, with Michigan State off to its best start since 1966, it'd be easy to get ahead of yourself if you're driving the Spartans bandwagon.

"I think it's a good moment, it's a moment that you can be happy with," Dantonio said Tuesday, referring to Michigan State's highest BCS ranking.

"But I believe that football teams are measured over the course of 12 games."

Who really knows?

Fair enough, but here's the tricky part for Dantonio: Whether he's got the blinders on or not, he's asked every week to measure his Spartans against the nation's best teams. He's the coach of one of the nation's 10 remaining unbeaten teams. But he's also one of the 59 voters casting a ballot in the USA Today coaches' poll, which is part of the ridiculous BCS equation, which ultimately could decide the Spartans fate.

And when asked about that Tuesday, Dantonio made it clear he doesn't enjoy the task.

"Yeah, I mean, what do you really know?" he said. "Really, who am I watching? I mean, I love Bobby Stoops, but am I watching Oklahoma every weekend? How do I know how good they are? I can assess Big Ten teams because that's who I watch. It's hard for me to assess all these other football teams, unless I watch 'em on TV and I'm dipping a Dorito in something and eating."

It's safe to say he's not doing that. Doctor's orders, you know? Coach's, too. But it's part of his job, as silly as that seems.

I'm in my second stint as one of the two Michigan-based voters in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. But thankfully, the AP finally removed itself from the BCS formula in 2004. So while my weekly ballot generates all sorts of wonderful hate mail — our votes are made public all season, while the coaches', sadly, are kept secret until the final poll — it doesn't directly affect who plays for the mythical national title or the cartel that controls a whole lot more.

Dantonio's vote does, if only marginally. Still, it brings back Dantonio question.

"How do you really know? You don't know," he continued. "How does a sportswriter really know? Until you play those football teams, you really don't know who they are. So you do your best to recognize, 'This team has beaten this team' and 'Oh, yeah, I saw Boise beat Virginia Tech and that was a great football game. They're a good football team.' …"But I don't have time to read the USA Today every day and read about every football team out there, or go into all these websites to look to see who's doing what … I can only assess things and look at the NCAA stats and say, 'Hey, so-and-so has got a pretty good defense. That's why they're winning.' You really don't know."

Asked if he'd just as soon not have a say in the BCS, though, he replied, "No, with that being said, I think you want to have a say. Take the coaches out of it, then you're listening to sportswriters — no offense, OK? — and then the computers. So it's not a fail-safe way to do it."

Put it in writing

No, it's certainly not.

And there's a pretty good book that just hit the shelves — "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series" — that chronicles just how big a failure the current system is while also touting a plan for a 16-team playoff.

Dantonio, like many of BCS-weary peers, sounds like he's in agreement there.

"Probably the best way to do it is to have a playoff system of some sort," he said.

But that's a bag of Doritos for another day, I suppose.

Right now, Dantonio's got more than enough on his plate to worry about.

john.niyo@detnews.com

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Mark Dantonio, greeted by former Spartans standout Devin Thomas after last weekend’s victory over Illinois, says a playoff format would be the best way to decide a national champion. / Dale G. Young/The Detroit News
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