Time Is Right For MSU To Claim The State

"I think if you don't talk about championships within your football team and your program you're doing your players a disservice and selling them short. It's not as far away and you would think, but not as close as you would imagine."--Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio

ANN ARBOR - Here in this mecca of higher learning, expensive coffee houses and extraordinary sporting success, the atmosphere is 'business as usual' as the weather turns cooler and we progress steadily toward the fall.

But nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to the football program at the University of Michigan.

Michigan football gained supremacy in the state of Michigan and in the Big Ten when they found the foresight to name former Ohio State assistant and Miami University head coach Bo Schembechler to the helm of its program.

That led to a seismic shift in the football landscape.

Prior to Schembechler's arrival Michigan State, behind first Charlie Bachman (70-34-10), then two-time National Champion Clarence "Biggy" Munn (54-9-2) and then four-time National Champion Hugh "Duffy" Daugherty (109-69-5) had dominated not only the state, but the National College football scene.

But with Daugherty aging and no real successor having been groomed in East Lansing, the young fiery Schembechler made an immediate impact, piloting Michigan to eight Big Ten Titles in his first ten seasons.

MSU floundered through Denny Stolz, who got the team on three years probation, former Detroit Lions coach Darryl Rogers and the low point under Frank "Muddy" Waters. Spartan football finally had a short resurgance under George Perles.

But this year, Michigan reached the end of the Schembechler lineage when disciple Lloyd Carr, who led the Wolverine to a National Championship in 1997, retired following a Citrus Bowl win over Florida.

The Wolverines tried unsuccessfully to continue the Schembechley way by luring "Bo" protege', LSU head coach Les Miles - but Miles was was in the midst of completing a National Championship season in LSU.

After Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano turned down UM's overtures, Michigan turned to West Virginia head coach Rich Rodriguez who had a ton of success running an unconventional spread option offense.

After a contentious process with allegations back and forth between Rodriguez and West Virginia, the coach was ordered to pay WVU a $5 million buyout to secure his future at Michigan, of which the school picked up a substantial portion.

Still, a bad taste was left in the mouth of many UM backers over the process and the unconventional spread option offense, combined with Rodriguez's lack of knowledge about Michigan traditions seemed to cause friction in the football community.

Cleveland Browns wideout Braylon Edwards ripped Rodriguez for 'breaking tradition' by promising the coveted "#1" jersey to a defensive back. Legacy recruit Justin Boren quit the team and transferred to arch-rival Ohio State alleging an erosion of the family atmosphere at Michigan.

So second-year head coach Mark Dantonio finds himself in a great position to cause a shift in the football landscape.

The state's top radio station, WJR 760AM, dropped Michigan football in favor of Michigan State. The Spartans are openly courting Detroiters by playing early season games at Ford Field.

And the state's top recruits are noticing.

Michigan State has landed many of the state's top stars including top running backs Edwin Baker (Oak Park) and Larry Caper (Battle Creek Central), Detroit linebacker Chris Norman, East Lansing lineman Blake Treadwell and Midland quarterback Andrew Maxwell all have pledged Green.

With Michigan struggling to find the proper athletes to to run their system, could this be the year, the Michigan State changes fortunes with the Wolverines and establish itself as the top program in the state?

First things first.

The Spartans must find a way to beat the Wolverines on the football field - but many believe this could be the year they do it.

Dantonio fell by four to the Wolverines at Spartan Stadium and had to swallow hard when Michigan great Mike Hart referred to them as Michigan's "little brother" intimating that the Wolverines toyed with the Spartans before pulling out the win. Spartans players and coaches were incensed when they heard the remarks.

Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio angrily warned after that game that "pride comes before the fall," and hinted the Spartans wouldn't quickly forget the remarks.

When I caught up with Dantonio recently at the Big Ten meetings, I asked if any of the feelings he had in that postgame locker room remained with him.

"Well, hopefully, I've put that to bed," said Dantonio. "I guess I spoke out of emotion. But I think rivalries are good for college football, we're going to embrace the rivalry. I've said that all along. It's going to be a great rivalry and it'll continue to be so."

Dantonio understands that the words don't change anything.

The Wolverines have won five straight contest against the Spartans and State hasn't finished ahead of UM in the Big Ten standings since 1999 (both finished 10-2, but MSU defeated UM 34-31 under Nick Saban). One has to go back to the Spartans' Rose Bowl year of 1987 to find an outright finish ahead of the Maize-and-Blue.

But with a fifth-year senior quarterback in Brian Hoyer and one of the nation's top senior running backs in Javon Ringer plus an All-American linebacker in Greg Jones, the Spartans, who surprised nationally with a 7-5 record and a Champs Sports Bowl bid last season, seem to be in a good condition to grab their first Dantonio win over a Wolverine squad switching to a totally new system.

But to enact a full-blown power switch, MSU must beat UM on the field and in the recruiting wars this year and the next.

Until then, they will continue to sip their $5 lattes, exchange philosphies and think 'business as usual.'

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