Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo, Angelique Chengelis and Matt Charboneau break down the Wolverines' and Spartans' prospects, as well as those of the undefeated Western Michigan Broncos, going into Week 12 of the college football season.
East Lansing — Michigan State’s 28 seniors will take the field at Spartan Stadium today for the last time, a moment that has become a celebration of success in recent years.
Each of the three previous senior classes under coach Mark Dantonio rank Nos. 1-3 in total wins in program history, and coming out of the tunnel for a final time was one last nod to the crowd on their way to postseason success.
That won’t be the case for this year’s seniors against Ohio State.
But to say their legacy will be defined simply by this season would be overlooking everything they were a part of, from a pair of Big Ten championships, to three bowl victories and a spot in the College Football Playoff.
The Spartans are 3-7, and the seniors have owned that mark. They also can rightfully relish in what they’ve accomplished — a 39-12 mark that ranks fourth-best in program history.
“First of all there are a lot of guys in this class that have done some great things,” quarterback Tyler O’Connor said. “Between Riley (Bullough), Demetrious (Cox), and the list goes on and on. We’ll be one of the winningest classes here that Coach D has ever had, first of all. We’ve won a couple Big Ten championships, a Cotton Bowl, and things like that, so hopefully a tremendous class.
“This season obviously won’t be the greatest reflection on what we’ve done here, but I guess the biggest thing is that we’ve never stopped fighting. We rode every game out as hard as we could. There was never a lack of belief or work or dedication to this program. There was never a thought of giving up at any time.”
Needless to say, this group believed they would be carrying on the tradition set into motion when Dantonio coached his first season in 2007. That season ended with a bowl berth for the first time in four years, and everything improved from there as bowl appearances became the norm and a share of the Big Ten title came in 2010.
This senior class saw all that happening and signed up. In fact, two — offensive/defensive lineman Brandon Clemons and linebacker Ed Davis — were there in 2011 as Michigan State reached the inaugural Big Ten championship game, suffered a loss to Wisconsin, but bounced back to beat Georgia in the Outback Bowl.
The rest of the class arrived in 2012, and despite a 7-6 season, it was all good from there. Michigan State beat Ohio State in the Big Ten title game in 2013 and Stanford in the Rose Bowl, followed by a win over Baylor in the 2014 Cotton Bowl. It was back in the Cotton Bowl last season as part of the College Football Playoff after another Big Ten championship.
In those three years, Michigan State never won fewer than 11 games.
“I have three rings and have been to a lot of bowl games, and won all of them besides the Cotton Bowl last year against Alabama,” Clemons told MSUspartans.com. “I feel like my experience here has been nothing but greatness.”
While some might lament what this season will mean to the future of the program, the seniors believe it will prove to be crucial in the success they’re certain will come.
“I hope this is a pivotal point in our program’s history and next year these guys come out and put together a championship season,” tight end Josiah Price told MSUspartans.com. “I definitely don’t think that’s out of reach because if you break them down, we had chances to win every game this year. I don’t see this as a waste in my life, I still grew a ton as a person and a player this year.”
Dantonio recalled all this class has done, counting the bowls and championships. But he also noted how they’ve worked each week, showing no difference in effort from last season at 10-1 to 3-7.
He hopes all of it serves his players well.
“I know it’s been a disappointing year,” Dantonio said. “In a lot of ways, you can look back and say we should have won this game, that game, this game, that game, but we are just sort of where we’re at. We have to deal with that and hopefully this period of time in their life helps strengthen them for later disappointments in their life where they have challenges in their life.”
So the seniors will run out of the tunnel today with heads held high. They’ve got the rings to show what they’ve accomplished and now they can, in their own way, enjoy that final jog onto the field.
“It’s felt long, at the same time, it’s the blink of an eye that it’s gone by,” O’Connor said of his five years. “It’ll be a great moment to run out there, ... For me to go out for the last time at home and have it be against Ohio State in Spartan Stadium is also a surreal thing.”
Top of the class
A look at Michigan State’s winningest senior classes: