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Dantonio: MSU's mission is to 'reach higher'

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Jermaine Edmondson and Sparty pose with the Cotton Bowl trophy at the end of last season.

Chicago – Big Ten media days kicked off Thursday, and Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio opened the festivities making it clear the Spartans are hardly resting on the laurels of two straight top-five finishes in the national rankings.

Ranked No. 6 in the coaches' poll released earlier in the day, the Spartans will continue to work toward reaching the Big Ten championship game and potentially a spot in the College Football Playoff, a position many didn't see coming when Dantonio arrived before the 2007 season.

"We've come a long way since coming here in 2007 with the number of accomplishments we've had – the last four straight bowl wins, two Big Ten championships," he said. "Our focus is to try and reach higher."

Reaching higher will be a tough task in 2015 as Ohio State – the defending national champion – stands in the way of winning the East Division and reaching the conference title game. But that hasn't changed the mindset in East Lansing.

"The makeup of our football team, in general, is to keep striving and to move forward," Dantonio said. "There are high expectations from our staff and the public in general. We all have to constantly improve on a daily basis."

The Spartans will attempt to do so with plenty of talent, including quarterback Connor Cook – who Dantonio said has "things left to prove" – and defensive end Shilique Calhoun.

Calhoun, the fifth-year senior who turned down a shot at the NFL, comes back to lead a defensive line Dantonio called "maybe as talented a group as we've had."

Dantonio also praised Ohio State for winning the national title and said the Buckeyes are natural rival because he and so many players on the MSU roster are from the state of Ohio.

"I have deep respect for what they've done down there," he said. "I was a part of it back in the early 2000s. I respect that tradition very much."

Dantonio, Cook, Calhoun and senior center Jack Allen will continue with one-on-one interviews on Thursday afternoon as media days continue through Friday.