East Lansing — A week ago, after Michigan State accepted a bid to play Washington State in the Holiday Bowl, coach Mark Dantonio was asked if he was upset that rival Michigan was picked first in the bowl selection process.
His answer apparently bothered Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who fired back via Twitter. It created a back-and-forth that ended with Harbaugh telling reporters at an Outback Bowl press conference that he wished Dantonio wouldn’t mention the Wolverines.
On Sunday night, after the Spartans held their annual banquet, Dantonio was asked if he was surprised how things escalated.
“In this day and age, not surprising,” Dantonio said.
Not surprising that social media helped it take off, but maybe a bit surprising considering the initial comment that apparently set off Harbaugh seemed fairly benign, especially for a rivalry that has its share of bitterness.
It all began when the Outback Bowl selected Michigan (8-4) to play in its Jan. 1 game in Tampa, Fla., ahead of Michigan State, despite the fact Michigan State (9-3) had the better record and beat Michigan for the eighth time in the past 10 seasons.
Dantonio was asked at his press conference last Sunday if he was bothered by the fact Michigan was selected first.
“I just look at it as an opportunity to play in the Holiday Bowl right now,” he said. “The records are what they are. I'll just continue to concentrate on beating Michigan and let things sort of sort out.”
The next day, Harbaugh took to Twitter, posting: “Saw Coach D comments on continuing to 'focus' on how 'he' can beat Michigan. Congrats on turning around a 3-9 team, plagued with off field issues. Good for BIG to have him back.”
That elicited a response from Dantonio, who used an old quote of his own.
“For all Spartans, 'it's not over, it'll never be over, it's just getting started' #SpartansWill,” Dantonio posted.
That led to Harbaugh’s response to reporters on Thursday in Tampa.
“I didn’t understand how he dragged us into his frustration about what bowl game he went to,” Harbaugh said to reporter Justin Granit of 10News WTSP in Tampa. “I just prefer that he didn’t talk about us.”
On Sunday, Dantonio asked if it was an indication that Michigan State isn’t going away.
“Michigan State is never gonna go away,” he said. “They’re always gonna be here regardless of who’s coaching here and it is what it is.”
Michigan State had two full practices last week and will take things lightly this week as the players take final exams and the coaching staff starts dialing in on Washington State while doing some recruiting.
“We’ve gotten guys out there and worked them, lifting and running and seven-on-seven and things of that nature and really the entire team working these last two days,” Dantonio said. “The main thing is what we want to do is stay game-ready as much as anything to play football. It’s more technique oriented and about timing, in the passing game and different things technique-wise. It’s about staying ready to play football.
“We’ve had active practices, running and hitting and things of that nature.”
While plenty of young players will get work over the next few weeks, this is the time of year some start thinking about transferring. Dantonio said, at this point, he knows of no one planning to leave.
“I don’t know. I think that everybody at the end of the season probably sits down and tries to figure things out,” he said. “But I’m sure there are some people that have an opportunity to play someplace else or something like that. I’m not anticipating anything, but you never know what may happen.”
...With the early signing period beginning Dec. 20, Dantonio said most of the recruiting now is for next season’s class. He also said he expects all 20 commitments to sign on the 20th.
No. 16 Michigan State (9-3) vs. No. 18 Washington State (9-3)
Kickoff: 9 p.m. Dec. 28, SDCCU Stadium, San Diego
TV/radio: FS1/WJR 760