MSU's Dantonio shoots for 50,000 at spring game

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Michigan State's Mark Dantonio is one of 23 coaches on the preseason watch list for the Dodd Trophy, awarded to the nation's top coach.

East Lansing – As Michigan State enters its final week of spring practice, coach Mark Dantonio is feeling good about the direction his team is heading.

The Spartans have had two spring scrimmages – both won by the defense – but Dantonio says he's seen plenty of positives on both sides of the ball. And with the expectations this fall likely as high as they've ever been, he believes the players see the same thing he does.

"I think we have a great potential in our team," Dantonio said Monday on "Inside MSU Athletics," a radio show hosted by athletic director Mark Hollis. "The bar has been set very high for this program right now and our players feel that, see that and want that."

The bar has been increased dramatically the past two seasons, both ending with the Spartans ranked in the top five in the nation and victories in the Rose Bowl and Cotton Bowl.

While there are some holes to fill, quarterback Connor Cook and defensive end Shilique Calhoun return to a team many believe will be a top-10 squad before the season begins, and will be expected to battle defending national champion Ohio State again for the Big Ten title. The Spartans have their share of tough games this season, including a visit from Oregon early in the season and a trip to Ohio State late in conference play.

But it's exactly the way Dantonio wants it.

"I don't think there's ever been a game I thought we were gonna lose when we entered it," he said. "I would imagine we go into most games (this season) as the favorite. There's something that goes along with doing that -- that's confidence. We have to play to that expectation, though."

The first chance for the public to see the 2015 team will be a Saturday's spring game that kicks off at 2 p.m. at Spartan Stadium.

Dantonio has worked hard to make the spring game an event, much like it is at other schools. To do that, he has been reaching out the student body by hosting clinics with his players in an effort to create more of a bond between them. It's something he sees in the basketball program.

"I really want it to become much like Midnight Madness has become," Dantonio said. "Midnight Madness is an event, it's something that's gonna be packed and regularly attended by our students and by everybody who is a Spartan supporter. And that's what spring games across this country are starting to become and we have to keep pace with that and gives everybody an opportunity to see Michigan State football 2015."

Dantonio's goal is to break 50,000 in attendance at the spring game.

"We have great support here," he said. "We are one of the haves -- there's no question about that -- out there in college football and I think the success that our players and this program has had in the past elevates us to that status. ... Last year we had 35,000 (fans) easily, maybe more than that, so it's a nationally-televised, Big Ten Network deal, so it should be a great event."

The students that took part in the clinics will be allowed to run out of the tunnel onto the field at Spartan Stadium on Saturday, just one of the highlights of the day. Dantonio also said the eight first-team All-Americans in his eight seasons at Michigan State will be honored, as will the basketball team after its run to the Final Four.

Prior to the game, the team will again host its annual youth clinic from 10-11:30 a.m., and the team's championship trophies from the Rose Bowl and Cotton Bowl will be on display and available for pictures. Dantonio added that Michigan State's new Nike uniforms will also be displayed.