Saturday's game is special for Spartans' Ohio players

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — There doesn't seem to be much of a debate as far as Mark Dantonio and Urban Meyer are concerned.

While Saturday's matchup between No. 7 Michigan State and No. 13 Ohio State is a big game, it hasn't reached the status of a rivalry.

Meyer said so on Monday, and Dantonio echoed the statements at his weekly news conference on Tuesday.

"No, not at all," Dantonio said. "Our rivals right here, right now are Michigan and Notre Dame. That's how I see our rivals at Michigan State."

Dantonio believes there needs to be a long history of big games, and while that has only been recent in the Michigan State-Ohio State series, there is one element that makes this game a bit more special for the Spartans.

Twenty-seven players on Michigan State's roster hail from Ohio, and to them, it means just a bit more than most games on the schedule.

"It's a little emotional, being from Ohio, everyone I go to high school with goes to Ohio State, roots for Ohio State," quarterback Connor Cook said. "It's not divided like Michigan. In Michigan you grow up you're either blue or green. You grow up in Ohio you're a Buckeye fan. (I'm) treating it like another game, but obviously not trying to get too emotional or get caught up in it.

"I know I respect Ohio State, I know some guys on that football team that are nice guys that I've known growing up, but, you know, I wouldn't compare it to a Michigan rivalry at all. I think it's a competitive rivalry. Believe me I respect Ohio State. I have no disrespect to them whatsoever."

Even though there is respect between the teams, there is still a small part in many of them that wants to prove something.

"Growing up you definitely have a lot of people around you who watch the Buckeyes," said safety Kurtis Drummond, a native of Masury, Ohio. "When you don't have a chance to go down there, it sits with you a little bit, but coming here to Coach Dantonio and his staff was the best thing that could have happened to me."

Dantonio understands. The native of Zanesville, Ohio, has plenty of ties throughout the state and was the defensive coordinator for the Buckeyes' 2002 national championship team.

"I do think that makes it personal," he said. "You grow up in the state and you listen, you hear. You know a lot of people that sit on that side of the fence and I think it's just natural you want to measure up."

Man behind the mask

The "College GameDay" crew will be in East Lansing on Saturday, but last week they had a little fun with Dantonio.

The show's hosts donned masks of various college coaches and Kirk Herbstreit wore Dantonio's. He portrayed the Spartans coach as stoic and lacking emotion. Dantonio got a kick out of it.

"I laughed, you know," he said with a smile. "I'm just about business on the sidelines. People that know me know how I am, but, you know, when you go to the sideline, there's a focus that has to be kept. I don't know, maybe I just look mean."

Extra points

Junior defensive end Shilique Calhoun was named a semifinalist for the Lombardi Award, given annually to the best lineman or linebacker. On Monday, Calhoun was named a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award, given to the top defensive player in college football.

Cook was named a semifinalist for the O'Brien Award, given to the nation's top quarterback. That came a day after being named a semifinalist for the Maxwell Award, given to the best player in the country.

...Dantonio said fifth-year senior linebacker Mylan Hicks would practice this week and his status for Saturday's game would be determined over the next few days. Hicks last played against Nebraska before suffering a broken arm.