Dantonio says Spartans' talent level will remain high

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Grand Rapids — Things couldn't be much better for Mark Dantonio and the Michigan State football program these days.

Michigan State, which beat Baylor in the Cotton Bowl, is coming off back-to-back top-five seasons that included a Big Ten championship, a Rose Bowl win and a 24 victories. And headed into next season, the expectations will be just as high with the return of quarterback Connor Cook and defensive end Shilique Calhoun.

And as Dantonio prepared to take part in the annual Spartan Winter Tailgate at the JW Marriott on Tuesday night, he had just come from the NFL combine, where cornerback Trae Waynes and running back Jeremy Langford stood out among the six Spartans in attendance.

"Our guys did a great job and it was very exciting to watch them getting ready for the next thing in their lives," Dantonio said.

Michigan State had a Big Ten-best six players at the combine — receivers Tony Lippett and Keith Mumphery, linebacker Taiwan Jones and safety Kurtis Drummond joined Waynes and Langford. All likely helped their draft stock, but it was also further evidence of how far Michigan State has come in Dantonio's eight seasons.

"I think it speaks to the quality of our program right now," Dantonio said. "We've got good players in our program and that's the reason why we're winning football games. ... The last two years what are we, 24-3? So again there's a reason why we're winning.

"As I've said, the reality now is we're selling results. We sell results to our fans and to our recruits that we're recruiting. We're not selling hope anymore."

Some in the national media have questioned whether Dantonio won't be back to selling hope soon. A recent ESPN.com story identified Michigan State as a team on the decline, saying it didn't take advantage of the decline of Michigan and Ohio State.

Dantonio brushed it aside as one writer's opinion.

"That was one abstract thing that somebody had to say on one day," he said. "I don't really see that very often. I haven't seen a lot of people saying that. And I don't see us declining. I see us moving forward."

That continues with winter workouts Dantonio said have been going well. He talked about the leadership of Cook and Calhoun as well as seniors Ed Davis and Jack Allen, and he singled out junior receiver Monty Madaris as a player he expects to make a big jump.

"They've been in a lot of big games, big moments, big times within the program," Dantonio said. "Not just on game day but in the program, events around the program in the community. There's an absence there and somebody has to take control of that."

It helps that this senior class might end up being one of Dantonio's best, and that's saying a lot. The class that just completed its run tied the 2014 class with 43 victories. This season's group will have a shot to reach that mark.

"When we recruited them, as we saw them mature into their redshirt year and they started to become players in their redshirt freshman year, the statement was made by a lot of our coaches that they may be the most talented class we've recruited," Dantonio said. "But you don't get where you want to go unless you have your best year as a football player your senior year, and unless you have great leadership."

The Spartans begin spring practice March 24, with the spring game April 25. Dantonio said, at this point, there haven't been any changes to the roster as no one has left the program.

After spring it's on to summer conditioning and then preseason camp.

"We've won 53 games in five years, that's a lot of football games," he said. "With that said, we could have won some others, so we focus on the ones we didn't win, too."