August 17, 2014 at 9:27 pm

Mark Dantonio embraces Michigan State's No. 8 ranking in AP preseason poll

Mark Dantonio has 15 players returning from last year's team that went 13-1 and finished No. 3 in the rankings. (Dale G. Young / Detroit News)

East Lansing — Michigan State enjoyed a record-breaking season in 2013 and, according to the pollsters, that success should provide plenty of momentum for the Spartans heading into this season.

After winning 13 games a year ago, as well as the Big Ten championship and the Rose Bowl, Michigan State enters this season ranked No. 8 in the Associated Press preseason poll released Sunday.

It marks the highest preseason ranking for Michigan State in the AP poll since 1967 when it was ranked No. 3. The Spartans are also No. 8 in the preseason USA Today coaches’ poll.

“Our focus remains on winning championships,” coach Mark Dantonio said after the rankings were released. “We have proven that we can compete consistently with the top teams in the country and will continue to dream big. We need to embrace our preseason ranking and display the maturity it takes to manage that success.”

The No. 8 ranking marks the 14th appearance in the preseason top 10 for the Spartans, including No. 10 in 1979, No. 3 in 1967, No. 2 in 1966, No. 4 in 1962, No. 6 in 1961, No. 8 in 1960, No. 4 in 1958, No. 3 in 1957, No. 2 in 1956, No. 4 in 1954, No. 2 in 1953, No. 1 in 1952 and No. 2 in 1951.

This year’s team returns 15 starters from last season’s team that finished No. 3 in the final Associated Press and USA Today Polls, marking its highest placing in the national rankings since 1966. In addition, Michigan State became just the third team in Big Ten history to win at least 13 games in a season (Minnesota, 1904; Ohio State, 2002).

The Spartans also went 8-0 in Big Ten play for the first time in school history and claimed their second Legends Division title in three seasons. They also became the 14th Big Ten team to post an 8-0 mark in league play and were the first Big Ten team to win all eight of its conference games by double-digit points since the league went to an eight-game schedule in 1971.

Three of Michigan State’s 2014 opponents are ranked in the preseason AP poll, including No. 3 Oregon, No. 5 Ohio State and No. 22 Nebraska.

The showdown with the Ducks in the second week of the season will likely be an early indicator if the Spartans are going to be in the race for one of the four berths in the first College Football Playoff while Big Ten showdowns at Spartan Stadium with Nebraska and Ohio State will go a long way in determining the East Division champion.

“Ultimately, we will be measured at the end of the season,” Dantonio said, “so we will again strive to be playing our best football in November, December and on into January.”

Michigan State kicks off the season at home against Jacksonville State at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 29. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

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Polling place

Michigan and Michigan State in the last five preseason and final AP polls:

Michigan

Year; Preseason; Final

2013; 17; NR

2012; 8; 24

2011; NR; 12

2010; NR; NR

2009; NR; NR

Michigan State

Year; Preseason; Final

2013; NR; 3

2012; 13; NR

2011; 17; 11

2010; NR; 14

2009; NR; NR;