The days are counting down until the Michigan State Spartans head off to Dallas and the Cotton Bowl. For opposing coach Nick Saban of Alabama, it was easy to talk about the state of a Spartans program he once was the head coach of while also giving his former assistant coach Mark Dantonio his due for the job he’s done in building the Michigan State program into one of the top programs in college football.
“I think Mark has done far more than I ever dreamed that I could have ever done at Michigan State,” Saban said recently in a pre Cotton Bowl press conference. “Of course, it was a different time and different circumstance when I was there. We were coming off probation, we were short scholarships for three or four years.
“Mark’s just done an outstanding job of evaluating players, getting good players to come there, improving the team every year he’s been there and doing a great job of developing the players that he has and establishing a sort of winning character on his team about how they play with toughness and the grit that they have and the way they finish games and believe in each other and the team chemistry they have, it’s really something special.”
Saban went on to talk about the biggest thing Dantonio has accomplished as the Spartans head coach.
“I spent ten years at Michigan State, five years as a defensive coordinator, we won one Big Ten, five years as a head coach, we didn’t win any Big Tens. We had one really good team at the end, but we didn’t win the Big Ten. I think he’s won three, so, I think it’s unprecedented what he’s done there.”
As for this version of the Spartans he must get his team ready to play in the Cotton Bowl, Saban knows they have the tools and intangibles to test his team.
“We’re playing a really good team,” he stressed. “I think everybody respects the team that we’re playing and they certainly have an outstanding quarterback, they can run the ball effectively. This might arguably be the best quarterback we’ve played against all year long. Their defense plays with a lot of toughness, very aggressive.
“Have statistically been very successful all season long and hard to score on. Their very well coached, they play well on special teams. I don’t think there are any bad teams in the playoffs, and this is a very, very good team we’re playing.
“They have a lot of grit, they won a lot of games in the fourth quarter, three games on the last play of the game. So they find a way to win and they hang in there and they know how to finish. So it’s going to be important that we take the same sort of characteristics psychologically into this game so we can finish and play strong in the fourth quarter.”
While Saban is known overselling his team on their next opponent, his ties to Michigan State still seem to be strong and one of great respect.
“I always thought that Michigan State was a fantastic place, a great school,” he said. “I love it there and have a lot of good friends there. There’s great people at Michigan State. They have a great administration, good athletic director. Tommy’s (Izzo) had great success with the basketball for many, many years.”