Michigan State Spartans Have Become the Hunted, Dantonio Knows It
Michigan State is the defending Big Ten champion, and the current Rose Bowl victor. As the conference ushers in a new era, the Spartans have a bullseye on their chest, and head coach Mark Dantonio knows the challenges that await.
At the Big Ten media days this past week, Dantonio said plainly that Michigan State are now one of the hunted.
"We've had success. We've gotten to a point where we've done some special things. What's on our agenda next, how do we handle that success, and that's really going to be one of the biggest things we'll have to deal with this year," Dantonio said during his press conference. "I think we're a little bit more of the hunted. That's a good place to be, but it's also a very precarious place to be as well."
The preseason coaches' poll was also released this week, and Michigan State debuted at No. 8, just two spots back from Ohio State. Their Nov. 8 meeting is already being discussed as the East Division eliminator.
In 2013, the only game Sparty won by seven points or less was in the Rose Bowl against Stanford. Their only loss was came early against Notre Dame, 13-17.
They were a dominant football team thanks in part to their defense, but their dominance did not come easy. It will only be harder in 2014 with an upgraded schedule to navigate.
"We found the inches last year, as I said," Dantonio said. "We have to continue to find those inches and gain even more ground, because, you know, respectability can fly right out the window on us. I understand that, so it's what we've done lately that you're basically judged on, and we continue to build our future as we move forward."
The Spartans must find those inches once more this season. They will be challenged right away in the second game as they head to Eugene to battle the Oregon Ducks in a primetime match-up.
Much of Michigan State's success this season will depend on the maturation of quaterback Connor Cook.
If Cook can provide more offense for MSU, the Spartans will be one of the toughest outs in college football. They will replace defensive talent, since Dantonio's bread and butter is crafting a stiff defense.
Having three of the four premier match-ups at home will help Sparty as well. Nebraska, Michigan, and Ohio State all must take road trips to East Lansing. The Spartans close out the regular season by traveling to Happy Valley for a game against resurgent Penn State.
The road is not easy, but MSU boasts a very talented team with one of the best head coaches in the sport.
Dantonio recognizes the challenges of the 2014 season, and that his team will get the best shot of everyone on its schedule. Time will tell if his Spartans can repeat and make a showing in the newly minted playoff, but all signs point to another great year in East Lansing.