East Lansing — Considering what Mark Dantonio inherited when he took over as Michigan State's coach in 2007, a trip to the Cotton Bowl on New Year's Day against a top-five team would seem like a reason for Spartans fans to flock to Dallas.
But call it complacency, call it a Rose Bowl hangover, there isn't near the buzz for the bowl showdown against Baylor. And the idea the season has been a disappointment, regardless of expectations, doesn't sit too well with Dantonio.
"I don't understand why people keep saying that," he said. "I mean, we're 10-2. People keep saying that's major disappointment. Move on."
It's hard to tell whether Dantonio was bothered by the question or the notion a double-digit win season — the fourth in five years — wouldn't be good enough, even considering the fact their only losses came to teams in the College Football Playoff.
The fact remains, however, Michigan State entered the season thinking playoffs. And for many fans, anything short of that meant the season wouldn't be a success.
It's the result of the gradual success Dantonio has brought to the Spartans. Before he arrived, they hadn't played in a bowl in three seasons and went to one if five years. But in his eight years, Michigan State has reached a bowl every season, and has won three straight.
That success reached its peak last season with 13 victories and a Rose Bowl victory. It was Michigan State's first trip to Pasadena in 26 years and Spartans fans took over Southern California.
And with many of their core players back this season, the expectation of getting to the playoffs was realistic.
"Everybody always wants to go further," Dantonio said. "That's just human nature. … So we challenge ourselves to be the very best."
But Michigan State fell short in its two biggest games — a 46-27 loss at Oregon and a 49-37 loss to Ohio State.
"In the country, there are teams that feel like they had a failed season or a down season because they're not part of the four-team playoff," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said. "I'm concerned there are teams like Michigan State finishing 10-2 and some thinking it's a failed season, and it's not."
Hollis is seeing some of that effect in ticket sales. As of late last week, Michigan State had sold a little more than 6,000 of its 13,000 allotted tickets for the Cotton Bowl.
But there are several factors that point to other factors for the slower ticket sales.
■A surprise move in the final rankings. It appeared Michigan State was locked into the Orange Bowl and a game in a state home to a large alumni base. But the final rankings watched Mississippi State jump Michigan State and take that spot, leaving the Spartans in the Cotton Bowl.
■Many fans are going to the secondary market to find better tickets than those offered by Michigan State, which cost $150 and $240.
"The tickets we have remaining are in the upper hithers of Cowboys Stadium," Hollis said. "Fans can find seats at lower prices and in much better locations than with some of the remaining tickets we have available. … We're not getting credit for many Spartans that are buying tickets from third parties."
But, Hollis remains confident and added Michigan State is in the same spot any other Big Ten team would be.
"The Cotton Bowl is an unbelievable bowl," Hollis said. "We're sitting here as Michigan State having a string of bowls and getting a little complacent is natural and easy to do. We have to fight against that. But we're 10-2 and going to a city with a lot of hotel rooms, it's relatively economical and I appreciate the fans that have signed up. As an AD, I hope we have more. … But I don't think our fan base is complacent about the program."
And while Hollis is sure there will be plenty of Michigan State fans at the game, the fact remains it's a tougher sell than it would have been had the Spartans reached the playoffs.
Dantonio understands that, to a point.
"People expect more," he said. "That is their right. But it gives us an edge. It gives us a little bit of an edge and chip on our shoulder as we go, and we use whatever we need to use."