OPINION: U-M, MSU Battle As Signing Day Nears

Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio and his staff are working day and night to restore the pride and the winning tradition to East Lansing, but yesterday's events show the Green-and-White are going to have to work even harder to win some of these critical battles.

EAST LANSING - Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio and his staff are working day and night to restore the pride and the winning tradition to East Lansing, but yesterday's events show the Green-and-White are going to have to work even harder to win some of these critical battles.

With the new coaching staff at Michigan yet to have called some key verbal commitments, Michigan State appears to have been working behind the scenes to get some neglected players to visit, notably linebacker J.B. Fitzgerald, defensive end Marcus Witherspoon and offensive lineman Rocko Khoury (--ed. note: family members of some of these players have told GSN that they have not talked to Rodriguez and are not sure where they stand, so they are "keeping their options open.").

However, yesterday following his official visit to East Lansing, linebacker Taylor Hill traveled to Ann Arbor unofficially and committed to Michigan.

The move was stunning on first glance and appeared to be a setback to MSU's efforts, but not so much when one realizes that Hill had committed to Rich Rodriguez when he was at West virginia, so getting an offer to UM and him reuniting with Rodriguez in Ann Arbor makes sense.

Sources have told GSN that U-M probably wouldn't have made a move on Hill if not for the visits taken by Witherspoon and Fitzgerald to other schools. Still, the move has to sting for the Spartans.

But there are more, even higher stakes for the MSU.

With National Signing Day approaching, Michigan and Michigan State are in a high-stakes poker game for the state's top player, defensive end Nicholas Perry of Detroit King. Perry has entertained offers from USC and Miami, but most believe it'll come down to Michigan State or Michigan.

Both teams want Perry badly and it seemed the Spartans held the edge for Perry's service as he would be plugged into graduating senior Jonal Saint-Dic's rush end spot. That was before UM announced it had hired defensive coordinator Scott Shafer, an Ohio native who says he won't run the "odd stack" defense that WVU ran but will run a more conventional 4-3-4.

Perry is a true "field-tilter" a guy who's presence can change a game. This is one battle Michigan State can't afford to lose.

The stakes get even higher as National Signing Day looms. Even if a player verbally commits to your program, no one knows what's really going to happen until the fax machine whirls and the letter signed by the player and his parents comes through.

Last year, MSU lost one of the players who had verbally committed when Cedric Everson switched at the last minute for Iowa.

Will any of the UM commits defect to MSU? Where will Perry land? Which players will actually live up to their star ratings and which ones will be the ones who inevitably disappoint and never make an impact?

These are the small battles that add up to wins and losses eventually in the fall. Mark Dantonio and his staff are working hard to turn the tide, change some minds and some results on the playing field.

For the coaching staffs this is where reputations are made, credibility and character are tested and even the most heartfelt of pitches to a talented 17-year old may come up empty.

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