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East Lansing — The last time Michigan State was ranked in the top five during the preseason was 1967.

It was coming off a season when it was voted the consensus national champion with one "blemish" on its record — a 10-10 tie with Notre Dame in a game that pitted the No. 1 Fighting Irish and No. 2 Spartans.

Needless to say, expectations were high in 1967. But instead of living up to those expectations, the Spartans went in the wrong direction and finished 3-7.

"I saw that," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said.

His charge is to avoid the same sort of letdown for his team, which is No. 5 in the preseason rankings.

This season's team isn't in that different a position than the 1967 team. That team had two straight seasons with a national title and lost once. This year's team is coming off back-to-back top-five finishes along with victories in the Rose and Cotton bowls, as well as a Big Ten championship.

Dantonio, however, isn't shying away from the high expectations.

"I think that ratings are great, especially early in the season," Dantonio said. "But that's an indication of what has been done here. It's not an indication of what will be done here. We have to look at those rankings and put those over here, and see where we can come with those at the end of the season. We'll get ranked in terms of what we earn, and that's how we've always approached it."

And if there's any team that understands preseason rankings mean little, it's Michigan State.

In 2013, when Michigan State lost once — to Notre Dame — it was unranked to start the season. All Michigan State did that season was win the Big Ten title by handing Ohio State coach Urban Meyer his only loss to a conference opponent in the championship game, then beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl.

"This ball club ... we could care less about rankings," fifth-year senior safety RJ Williamson said. "We've got a bunch of guys here that are a bunch of three-stars, two-stars, no-name guys, and the preseason means absolutely nothing. Teams from last year are a lot different than they are this year. They've lost seniors and people who left early for the draft and you have no idea how they're gonna look.

"(The early rankings) are a bunch of bull. You don't know until the end of the season."

Michigan State will be tested early on the road, facing a Western Michigan team that played in a bowl last year before returning home to take on No. 7 Oregon. After that, it takes on Air Force and Central Michigan, two more bowl teams.

And the conference schedule is no picnic with road games against Nebraska, Michigan and Ohio State.

But, Spartans players insist they haven't changed their approach.

"I'm not knocking the No. 5 (ranking), we appreciate that," sophomore safety Montae Nicholson said. "But we all know what we're working for, we all know why we're working and it's coming together real nice."

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/mattcharboneau

Michigan State at Western Michigan

Kickoff:7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 4, Waldo Stadium, Kalamazoo

TV/radio:ESPNU/WJR

Series:Michigan State leads 11-2 (Michigan State 26-13, Aug. 30, 2013)

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