Dantonio embraces MSU's elite status: 'We're here to stay'

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Mark Dantonio

East Lansing — After Michigan State locked down an 11-win season with a big victory in the Cotton Bowl, the Spartans were thrust into the conversation as one of the elite programs in the country.

In the midst of MSU's surge to the Sweet 16, football coach Mark Dantonio highlighted the Spartans' dual achievements of winning four straight bowl games and the basketball team getting to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

With a top-five finish in the final polls, expectations remain high for MSU, heading into Tuesday's start of spring practice. Despite losing 10 starters, the Spartans again are projected to be a contender in the Big Ten.

"We've never been a complacent group of people — 15‑1 in the Big Ten the last two years," Dantonio said. "And go back, we've done some very, very good things. I think we're approaching some very high standards here.

"We're here to stay. And I think that's something we've got to constantly say to our football team and preach to it -- you're going to be measured on what you do next. And there's basic expectations now from our players who have left and from Spartans in again, that we need to continue to raise our level of play."

With 15 practices before the Green-White Spring Game on April 25, Dantonio's plan is to continue to improve but also to keep the players champing at the bit to remain a contender in the Big Ten East Division.

But given the improvement in recent years, the focus in on striking a balance between having a winning swagger and taking that too far.

"You want to be confident (but) you can't be so confident that you take things for granted," Dantonio said. "We believe in hard work here; we're going to work extremely hard. We're playing with great effort and understanding what we're doing.

With defending national champion Ohio State and a resurgent Michigan squad in the same division, Dantonio anticipates that the Spartans will continue to face challenges on the field.

"You're always trying to reach further, reach higher, and we've got to reach a little further and you're in a (national) playoff game," Dantonio said. "And that would be the goal — to get in the playoff game."