All along, Dantonio is keeping his eye on what all the recent success is doing for the image of his program. And he said Tuesday he's not content with Big Ten titles and Rose Bowl bids. He mentioned "national championship" after a Nov. 19 win over Indiana and mentioned it again Tuesday.
"Yeah, it's on my list. I've been there before," said Dantonio, who helped win the 2002 national title as Ohio State's defensive coordinator. "Once you've been there before, you want to return. You want to return in a different light.
"So I do think it's possible. I do think that we have got good players coming here. I think there's a lot of parity in college football. I see it in the Big Ten Conference. I see it in the divisions. There's no team that cannot beat another team. There's no givens out there. Just like this weekend, there's no given. You'd better be ready to play, but if you have special people on your football team that are geared towards success, there's opportunities for you. Last year's team, we lost two games, and we lost them decisively. But, you know, we're coming."
National respect was a big theme last season, which saw the Spartans go 11-2 and win the school's first Big Ten title in 20 years. But the Spartans lost by 31 to Iowa and by 42 to Alabama, dousing some of the excitement.
"Things are only gonna keep getting better here," junior DT Jerel Worthy said.
--Dantonio reiterated Tuesday that the Spartans are dead serious about the Nov. 26 regular-season finale at Northwestern, even though they've already clinched the Legends Division title and a spot in the Big Ten championship game. He said he won't rest any regulars for the game, and he doesn't like the idea of rival Michigan possibly getting a division co-championship -- which would happen if MSU loses and the Wolverines beat Ohio State.
"We want to be in charge of this division, we want to be the champion, the one champion -- not sharing the co-championship or anything of that nature," Dantonio said. "We want to make a statement to that effect."
--Mark Dantonio announced that his assistant coaches will get a pay bump starting in February. He didn't give exact amounts but said the staff will now rank in the top three in the Big Ten.
Dantonio has been vocal about the need for more compensation for his assistants, but Michigan State University had a university-wide wage freeze in 2011.
SERIES HISTORY: Michigan State leads Northwestern 35-16 (last meeting, 2010, 35-27 Michigan State).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Two straight strong rushing outputs have the Spartans primed against the No. 10 rush defense in the Big Ten. Improved offensive line play also is helping QB Kirk Cousins play perhaps the best ball of his career right now.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Spartans always seem to have some trouble with Northwestern's spread offense, though this defense's speed should serve it well. Michigan State will need to stay wary of backup QB/jack of all trades Kain Colter.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I would like to think that everybody in our conference is in that nature, but I do have a lot of respect for Pat Fitzgerald and what he's been able to do there and building that program and sustaining it." -- MSU coach Mark Dantonio, on Pat Fitzgerald running a clean program at Northwestern
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Michigan State at Northwestern, Nov. 26 -- This game essentially comes down to bowl positioning. Northwestern can get a seventh win and Michigan State can get a 10th, which will help if it loses the Big Ten title game.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Spartans must contain Northwestern QB Dan Persa on his senior day. Northwestern has not been able to get any pass rush going this season, but will need to gamble to affect red-hot Kirk Cousins.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
S Jairus Jones -- Back from an Achilles' tendon tear, Jones will probably be on the field a lot against the Northwestern spread offense.
WR Keshawn Martin -- The senior had his biggest game of the season against Indiana and is running extremely well after a slow start.
DT Kevin Pickelman -- The senior has emerged as a potent tag-team partner with Jerel Worthy.
RB Nick Hill -- The reserve runner is starting to become more of a threat on kick returns, ripping off a 67-yard return last week.
--Senior DT Johnathan Strayhorn will miss the final regular-season games, and likely the Big Ten title game, after requiring arthroscopic knee surgery.
--Junior RB Larry Caper is questionable for the Northwestern game after suffering a knee injury.
--Sophomore CB Darqueze Dennard is questionable for the Nov. 26 game at Northwestern after missing last week's game with an ankle injury.