The Spartans capped their Big Ten championship season with a win over Stanford in the Rose Bowl. (Dale G. Young / Detroit News)
East Lansing — Last week, as a holiday weekend was closing in, Mark Dantonio’s office looked nothing like a guy headed on vacation.
More than three months before the next game, player evaluations covered the table in the middle of the room as he was busy with one-on-one meetings with every player while his assistants were scouring the country for the next group of recruits.
It’s par for the course these days for Dantonio and his staff, fresh off one of the most successful seasons in program history. The 13 victories, including a Rose Bowl win, capped a four-year stretch of 42 victories and two Big Ten championships.
It has created something Dantonio now likens to some of the great teams of Michigan State’s past.
“It’s woke up a sleeping giant, that’s what it’s done,” Dantonio said of Michigan State’s recent success. “When you look at it, it’s brought back thoughts of the ’66 team, the ’67 team, the ’88 team.”
The challenge now for the Spartans is to prove the giant won’t quickly go back to sleep.
There is plenty of evidence, however, that the winning seasons are far more likely to continue, considering Michigan State’s “bad” season the last four years still resulted in seven wins and a bowl victory. Also, in his seven seasons at Michigan State, Dantonio has compiled 64 wins and taken the Spartans to a bowl every year, winning the last three.
“I think what we want to do is get back to where we were this past season, that will always be the goal to try and get better,” he said. “I think when people say when you get to the top of the mountain, you find out there’s other mountains around to climb, and you’ve got to be able to do that.
“I think the big point here is we need to be able to handle success, we want to set this place up for a long time. We want to leave a legacy here. We don’t want to be in and out.”
Reaching bigger goals certainly will look different this season with the advent of the College Football Playoff. No longer is the Rose Bowl the only goal, it’s simply one step in reaching the national championship.
Many analysts believe Michigan State has a legitimate shot to make it to the inaugural playoff despite losing six starters from a defense that was No. 2 overall in the nation in 2013.
“New Year’s Day bowl game was a first goal and we made that in ’08,” Dantonio said. “We’ve accomplished that three times, but the Rose Bowl is the ultimate. We’ve been able to accomplish that and now we set our sights higher.
“But I’ve said it many times this spring, you’ve got to check yourself.”
Dantonio believes the recent NFL draft was a perfect example for his current players to check themselves. Many expected several Spartans to be selected, but only Darqueze Dennard (first round, Bengals) was drafted.
That, Dantonio believes, is a sign to his team nothing will be handed to them, regardless of what they’ve accomplished.
“You’ve got to make sure that, are you doing everything that you were doing before or are you taking things for granted?” he said. “So I don’t believe in entitlement. I don’t believe that because there is a certain stigma attached to any university that university or program is guaranteed anything. I think you’ve got to earn those things and I think it’s a year-to-year thing.”