Sullen Spartans: Great season, but not enough

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Arlington, Texas — It wasn’t Michigan State’s best effort.

And the final score was absolutely embarrassing.

But the Spartans, somber and sullen in the AT&T Stadium locker room following the 38-0 pounding by Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal, remained proud of what they’d done.

Their motto all year was “Reach Higher,” and they reached higher than ever before.

“We weren’t in the College Football Playoff last year, we are this year,” senior cornerback Arjen Colquhoun said. “For this to be the second College Football Playoff and to be in it, I think that’s a big feat as a program.

“We’re an up-and-coming program, we’re establishing ourselves as an elite program. We’ve been top-five for the last three years. You can’t say we’re not an elite program.

“We lost, yeah, we lost. We got beat pretty good. But this is still an elite program and will continue to be an elite program.”

The Spartans accomplished a whole bunch this year, including marquee victories over Oregon, Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa in the Big Ten championship game. Only seven programs have made the two-year-old College Football Playoff, and one of them is Michigan State.

But the end, well, that was a clunker.

And that’ll take time to get over.

“Most of them,” sophomore safety Montae Nicholson said, when asked if MSU accomplished its goals this season. “Our end goal was to be in the national championship and win. We were two goals short — the Cotton Bowl and the national championship.

“We did make a step. We got a taste of it and we feel like we don’t want this to be the last taste for the College Football Playoff that we’ll have.”

Said junior safety Demetrious Cox: “I don’t feel like this season was unsuccessful or a failure or anything like that at all, but our goal was to get to the next game and we didn’t. In terms of that, I felt like we didn’t reach our goals that we had.”

Coach Mark Dantonio addressed the Spartans afterward in the locker room, and his message was simple: Hold your heads high, be proud, but there’s still work to be done.

The senior class then addressed the locker room, and what a senior class it was, winning 43 games, three bowl games and two Big Ten titles.

“It’ll kind of hit me and I’ll realize we’ve done a lot for the program. It’s been a great run,” senior defensive tackle Joel Heath said. “I know all the fans at Michigan State are extremely proud of us, what we’ve done, and we’re proud of ourselves, proud of ourselves for the kind of run we’ve made, the momentum we’ve been able to build for Michigan State.”

While the seniors talked afterward about making their mark on the program, the underclassmen talked about how tough it was to send the seniors out like that.

But nobody was pointing fingers, not the offense to the defense, or vice versa. They call each other brothers, and brothers stick together.

“Everything here is a process, and it’s about progress. We made a little step this year,” senior linebacker Darien Harris said. “Just talking to everybody as we take the pads off for the last time, we need to start remembering all the fun times we had this year.

“What really matters is the camaraderie I built and the lifelong family I now have.”