Michigan State head football coach Mark Dantonio talks about preparing for Notre Dame. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
East Lansing — Michigan State and Notre Dame will play for the 79th time on Saturday and, after that, it will be awhile before the teams face each other again.
Since 1959, there have been only four seasons — 1995, ’96, 2014 and ’15 — the Spartans and Fighting Irish did not meet. But thanks to several factors, including the Big Ten moving to nine conference games last season, the series no longer will have a regular rotation.
The next scheduled games are in 2026 and ’27, and after that, nothing is set in stone.
On Tuesday, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio joked when asked if he thought about this week’s game possibly being the last time he’d coach against Notre Dame.
“I did give that a little thought. Don’t count me out, though,” he said with a smile. “What is it, 2022? ’26? Well, yeah, count me out. I’d be 70, OK.
“But I have thought about that. This is the last one for a while, but just sort of in passing.”
Dantonio has been a big player in the rivalry over his time at Michigan State. As a head coach, Dantonio is 4-4 overall after winning three of the first four meetings. The last of those three wins came in 2010 when he called the fake field goal “Little Giants” that gave Michigan State the win in overtime.
“A lot of things happened in that — what was that, seven years yesterday?” Dantonio said. “That one sticks out.”
It was seven years ago Monday, and a lot of things did happen. Michigan State went on to win a share of the Big Ten title, but only after Dantonio spent the next few weeks recovering from a heart attack he suffered after that Notre Dame win.
It was a wild night at Spartan Stadium that senior center Brian Allen witnessed in person. His older brother, Jack, was on a recruiting visit and Brian tagged along.
“It was pretty cool,” he said. “It was my first real college football experience and being here for that and to see that ending was pretty sweet. It was cool being in (the locker room) and seeing those guys celebrate, some of the great Spartans like Greg Jones and Max Bullough and having those guys in there was pretty cool to see as a 14-year-old kid.”
Offensive lineman Brian Allen, and linebackers Chris Frey and Andrew Dowell talk about preparing for Notre Dame. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
Gibson to be honored
Kirk Gibson will have his name and No. 23 added to the Spartan Stadium Ring of Fame on Saturday, and Dantonio said on Tuesday that the former Michigan State All-American would be the team’s honorary captain for the Notre Dame game.
Known for his baseball prowess — Gibson was the 1988 NL MVP and won World Series titles with the Dodgers in 1988 and the Tigers in 1984 — Dantonio since has learned more about Gibson the football player who helped lead Michigan State to a Big Ten title in 1978.
“I’ve learned about him over the course of time just as an athlete and baseball manager, certainly and as I got to know him personally,” Dantonio said. “But I don’t think there’s any question that as a Major League Baseball player, everybody knew who he was; and the success that he had and the things that he was able to accomplish in that regard, and I knew that he had played football and was a great player at Michigan State.”
‘Just another team’
Junior linebacker Byron Bullough has a unique perspective of the Michigan State-Notre Dame rivalry. While his family is deeply connected to MSU — grandfather Hank Bullough, dad Shane, uncles Chuck Bullough and Bobby Morse as well as brothers Max and Riley all played for the Spartans — there’s nearly as much connection to the Irish.
His grandfather on his mother’s side, Jim Morse, played at Notre Dame from 1954-56 and his uncle, Jim Morse, played for the Irish from 1976-77.
“I grew up watching Notre Dame on TV and going to games,” Byron said. “I remember going to the bookstore with my grandparents before the games. That was a tradition and it was definitely special.”
What is Notre Dame to him now?
“Once I decided to come here it was just another team Michigan State has to play, another team Michigan State has to beat,” Byron said. “That is a special place at Notre Dame, but like I said, I’m Michigan State now and it’s just another team.”
The Big Ten Network announced the locations for its first six BTN Tailgate shows and the crew will be at Michigan State for its conference opener against Iowa on Sept. 30.
The two-hour broadcast starts at 10 a.m. from Munn Field and features host Dave Revsine along with analysts Gerry DiNardo and Anthony “Spice” Adams.
… Bullough and fellow junior linebacker Andrew Dowell are Michigan State’s game day captains.