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ESPN: MSU close but not an elite football program

The Detroit News

Is Michigan State an elite football program?

ESPN's Adam Rittenberg argues the Spartans are close but can't share the elite label at least historically or recently as Alabama or Oklahoma can.

After all, the Crimson Tide have 862 victories, 15 national championships and 25 SEC titles, with three of those national titles since 2009. The Sooners have seven national crowns since 1950, 861 wins and 45 conference titles.

No. 3 Michigan State plays No. 2 Alabama in the Cotton Bowl at 8 p.m. Thursday (ESPN).

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio congratulates Nick Saban on Alabama’s Capital One Bowl win in 2011.

The ESPN writer also makes the same argument against Clemson, the other College Football Playoff finalist. Read the full article here.

Rittenberg's thesis is not a slam on MSU. Quite the contrary.

On recruiting, Rittenberg notes how none of Michigan State's past five recruiting classes have finished in ESPN's Top 25. Yet, coach Mark Dantonio has taken overlooked prospects like cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard (2014 Bengals) and Trae Waynes (2015 Vikings) and turned them into first-round draft picks.

Dantonio also gets high praise for success in big games. His Spartans are 7-1 against top-10 foes and he's the first coach in Big Ten history to post five 11-win seasons in a six-year span.

MSU has solid support from its administration, with Rittenberg noting athletic director Mark Hollis is one of the country's most innovative.

The question of sustainability is harder to measure. Rittenberg writes, "Michigan State is a much better job than when Dantonio arrived, and top coaches would be interested in it. But there would be significant doubt about sustaining this performance without him, at least initially."

What would push MSU into elite real estate? Former Clemson coach and ACC Network analyst Tommy Bowden said it's a process.

"Ten-win seasons, championships, New Year's Day bowls, there's similar ingredients involved," Bowden said. "To have elite status, there's several pieces to the puzzle, but the crowing jewel is the national championship.

"That's what separates you from the rest."