Is Mark Dantonio the greatest football coach in Michigan State history?
The numbers say he is. His 111 victories are the most by an MSU football coach. Two weeks ago, he passed Duffy Daugherty, who held the record since the early 1970s.
The numbers also say Dantonio got to the front of the line by doing it his way, or at least doing it a different way than most people would view as the quickest path to success.
In 13 seasons as Michigan State’s head coach, Dantonio has never had a recruiting class ranked higher than No. 17 in the country. His first two recruiting classes at Michigan State ranked No. 53 and No. 42. Six of his recruiting classes have ranked in the 40s nationally.
Ohio State has had a total of eight 5-star recruits in its last three recruiting classes. Michigan State has had one 5-star in the Dantonio era, defensive lineman Malik McDowell in 2014. And McDowell underachieved in East Lansing before a short, unhappy NFL career.
Lots of teams talk about playing “with a chip on our shoulder.” But maybe no one does it better than Michigan State.
MSU pulled the plug on what Ohio State thought could be national championship seasons in the 2013 Big Ten championship game and late in the 2015 regular season.
Dantonio’s quarterback in both those games was an Ohio guy who was a 3-star recruit – Connor Cook in 2013 and Lima Central Catholic’s Tyler O’Connor, who started in place of the injured Cook in 2015.
Though those two painful losses leave the impression that Michigan State has been a constant pain in the posterior for Ohio State, the Buckeyes have won 12 of the 15 games between the two schools since 2000. MSU’s only wins in that time span have been in 2015, 2013 and 2011.
Michigan State (4-1, 2-0 Big Ten) might see Saturday night’s game at Ohio Stadium as a game that could define its season as those wins in 2013 and 2015 did.
If the Spartans win, they can continue to dream about this being a special season. A loss probably puts them a step behind Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan in the Big Ten’s East Division race.
Michigan State has nine returning starters on defense from a team that ranked No. 1 nationally against the run and No. 10 in overall defense last season. It is led by 2018 Big Ten defensive lineman of the year Kenny Willekes and first-team All-Big Ten linebacker Joe Bachie.
You know Michigan State’s defense is going to show up. Especially after allowing 31 points against Indiana last Saturday.
Ohio State (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) is averaging 52 points a game. You know OSU’s offense is going to show up. The bigger test might come on defense.
Ohio State’s defense has been praised all season for being much, much better than last year when it was the Buckeyes’ weak link. Is that improvement real or an illusion created by a soft early schedule?
How well the Buckeyes’ defense controls Michigan State’s offense could be the key to whether it will be a comfortable win or a nerve racking, down to the last second finish.
The prediction: Ohio State 31, Michigan State 14.