Dantonio milestone, historic turnaround on line for MSU

Matt Charboneau

East Lansing — Getting a 10th win this season is a priority for Michigan State.

Coach Mark Dantonio didn’t call it priority one. He called it, cleverly enough, priority No. 10.

The Spartans have a chance to get that victory when they face Washington State in the Holiday Bowl at 9 p.m. Dec. 28 in San Diego. It would be the fourth time in five seasons Michigan State will have won 10 or more games and the sixth time in Dantonio’s 11 seasons leading the Spartans.

But that number reflects just one aspect of the coach’s success in East Lansing, because if No. 16 Michigan State can win a bowl game for the fifth time under Dantonio, it would give the 61-year-old coach his 100th win with the Spartans.

“It’s sort of ironic,” Dantonio said on Sunday after the team’s annual banquet. “It gives us another thing to point towards.”

Dantonio already ranks second overall in victories among Michigan State coaches with 99. If the Spartans get the 10th win against Washington State, that would put Dantonio just nine victories behind the legendary Duffy Daugherty for the most wins in program history. Daugherty was 109-69-5 in his 19 seasons while Dantonio enters the Holiday Bowl with a 99-45 record in his 11th season.

It had Dantonio reminiscing a bit after he bumped into former safety Trenton Robinson, who was part of Michigan State’s Big Ten championship team in 2010 and helped get Dantonio’s first bowl victory over Georgia in the Outback Bowl after the 2011 season.

“When I look at 99 victories thus far,” Dantonio said, “I look back and you think about the players that have been here and the work that they’ve done. Trenton Robinson sat behind me at the basketball game, just by chance. He’s just one of them. There’s been so many players, so many great players, so many guys that have gone on to play in the NFL or started for us or had roles with us that have really been the foundation of who we are as a program.”

That foundation has been vital in getting the Spartans (9-3) to quickly turn things around after last season’s collapse of just three victories.

The six-win improvement from last season matches the program’s best turnaround in a single season, and a win in San Diego against Washington State (9-3) would establish a new mark, surpassing the jump from seven wins in 2012 to 13 victories the next year, which included a Big Ten championship and a win in the Rose Bowl.

It’s fitting, then, that Michigan State is back in California for a shot to complete the turnaround and hand its coach a notable victory.

“For me, to be able to go out to California and be able to spend my last couple days at Michigan State with these guys in California is gonna be unbelievable,” said senior linebacker Chris Frey, who’s been through the highs and lows. “It’s hard to put in words what that means for this team, especially for me. I’m just excited to be able to play in this game.

“Last year at this time we were sitting at home. For us to be able to have more practices under our belt, for me to be able to spend time with some of my best friends that I wouldn’t have gotten to if we were not in a bowl game. So, just to play in one more game is a blessing.”