East Lansing — Spartans football coach Mark Dantonio has expertly played the Rodney Dangerfield card since the first day he stepped on campus at Michigan State. He has been accused at times of contriving grievances to keep sharp the ever-present chip on his team's shoulder.
"Accused?" he said with mock incredulity.
This time, though, he may have every right to play the card. The Spartans, at least in terms of reaping Big 10's weekly honors, have not gotten any respect.
Despite being ranked 10th in the nation in the Associated Press poll and No. 8 in the coaches' poll, despite having the third-stingiest defense in the conference (eighth nationally), despite the second most productive scoring offense in the conference (sixth in the country), despite having the conference's most productive receiver and third most productive running back, the Spartans have not garnered a single player-of-the-week honor, not for offense, defense or special teams.
Dantonio was asked at his news conference Tuesday if it would be an overstatement to call that blatant disregard or disrespect.
"No, probably not," he said. "There are some things we can control and some things I can't control. Obviously they have a committee or a format for that."
Dantonio, though, as he has on a weekly basis, continues to pound the table for his players. He mentioned receiver Tony Lippett has some 200 more yards receiving than the next best Big Ten receiver and that Lippett leads the conference in touchdown catches.
He talked about running back Jeremey Langford, who is fifth in the conference and has rushed for at least 100 yards against 14 straight Big Ten opponents, something that hasn't been done in 18 years.
He talked about quarterback Connor Cook, who leads the conference in a couple of statistical categories.
"All I can do is vote for them or bring them forward as I just have done," Dantonio said. "Other people have to make those decisions. That's not my call."
He admitted it was disappointing.
"Sometimes I think to the winner goes the spoils, to be honest with you," he said. "We're a little bit of the forgotten ones right now. We have a very good football team. We have a chance to win 10 football games, and we need to take comfort in that and take comfort in the fact that we're going places and the program is strong and healthy and move from there."
Deep down, though, he probably doesn't mind if the conference continues to ignore his players, at least for another week. He'll accept all the motivational fuel he can throw at his players.
Case in point: As he was discussing Langford's attributes, he keyed on his will to succeed.
"He's a little bit driven," Dantonio said. "He's hungry. So when you ask why he hasn't been named (player of the week), that's good. Muhammad Ali used to say, 'I'll show you how great I am.' I will let him know. He'll be ready to go Saturday."
Switching it up
Dantonio is never afraid to tinker with players and positions, as evidenced by Lippett's transformation from cornerback to receiver to two-way threat.
In the past couple of weeks, Dantonio has given highly touted redshirt freshman running back Gerald Holmes some reps at linebacker. He's also given some running back reps to freshman linebacker T.J. Harrell.
"Really we did that because I don't want anybody to ever get complacent on our football team," Dantonio said. "So is that a change for the future? Probably not."
But it is a way for young players to get onto the field and to keep them feeling like they are a part of the program.
"Gerald Holmes is a great football player," he said. "A 10.5-feet long jumper, a big vertical jump guy, 225 pounds, and he's got to start playing football for us on special teams. That decision was made by me to create change.
"I put T.J. over there to get him happy a little bit. I think he was excited about that opportunity, as well."
Vayante Copeland, a cornerback, is another freshman who has been moved around — however temporarily.
"You've got to find your knack here, your position," Dantonio said. "You have to be open to position changes. Your number one goal is to become a football player. Your number two goal is to become a position player. So that's what we've done.
"I think at the end of the day, we want guys that can run, catch, do it all on both sides of the ball. That makes us stronger as we go."
…Dantonio would not give an update on starting guard Travis Jackson, who suffered a leg injury early in the game last week.
"He'll make the trip, and that's all I can say," he said. "We'll see how he comes the rest of this week."