Dantonio: I want to play in national title game

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
MSU Mark Dantonio speaks to coaches.

Lansing — Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio got to be a part of the inaugural College Football Playoff.

As Oregon and Ohio State prepared to play for the title, Dantonio was in Dallas, breaking down the matchup for ESPN and the Big Ten Network. He and the Spartans were in a unique position — their two losses in an 11-win season came against the Buckeyes and Ducks.

But it wasn't the position Dantonio wanted to be in. So, when kickoff arrived, Dantonio was on his way home.

"I didn't stay for the game," Dantonio said Friday during the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association clinic. "I felt a little awkward. I want to play in that game, I don't want to be a spectator. … I watched the fourth quarter when I got back."

The feeling was understandable.

Michigan State had another outstanding season, capping it with a victory over Baylor in the Cotton Bowl and a top-five ranking for the second straight season (No. 3 in 2013).

And with quarterback Connor Cook and defensive end Shilique Calhoun returning for their senior seasons, Michigan State again will be in the mix to battle Ohio State in the East.

"Look at what we did last year," Dantonio said. "I thought we played extremely well, but the two big games we had, outside of the bowl, we needed to play better, we needed to finish those things. I think we have that ability. ... I'm not taking anything away from those football teams. They're outstanding. But you always want to go a little farther."

There will be challenges to getting to that point next year.

In addition to Ohio State returning plenty of talent from the national title team, Michigan State will be adjusting to the loss of defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, now the head coach at Pitt. But Dantonio bristled at the notion the Spartans will see a significant drop defensively.

Instead, he believes the foundation Narduzzi built will be carried on by co-defensive coordinators Harlon Barnett and Mike Tressel.

"Pat didn't make one tackle out there; he didn't make one play on the ball," Dantonio said. "He is a coordinator. He did a great job. Again, our defensive coaches are all stable, intact, coaching the same guys. … the defensive scheme is in place. ... We will be fine.

"My goal is to leave a legacy here. Pat Narduzzi left a legacy here."

There is no doubt Dantonio is building a legacy. It's also one he is planning to continue to build.

He was asked how long he'd keep coaching and didn't come close to guessing. Instead, he was busy talking about the momentum he feels around his program.

With recruiting coming down to the final couple weeks, he senses it outside of the football building.

"I do feel momentum," he said. "As I said, we are the only football team in America to win BCS games, or Power Six games, two years in a row. That is a positive. Two top-five rankings, that is a positive, and you got to build on those things."

Lineman likely done

Dantonio said sophomore offensive lineman Zach Higgins is likely done playing because of a knee injury suffered last spring. As of now, it's the only change in the roster.

"I think (he) will be a guy that won't be able to continue because of his knee situation," Dantonio said. "Beyond that I'm not sure. Got some guys injured and we'll see how they go. As far as transfers, I don't anticipate that, but I think those things happen after spring ball. Everybody wants to see themselves moving forward, so it's a process."

Dantonio added that redshirt freshman linebacker Jon Reschke is recovering from a shoulder injury that kept him out of the last part of the season.