Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio and offensive coordinator Jim Bollman were both members of the Ohio State coaching staff when the Buckeyes claimed the 2002 national championship under head coach Jim Tressel. In his first season in East Lansing, Bollman has produced the No. 63 scoring offense and No. 84 total offense. However, Dantonio had nothing but good things to say about his fellow former Buckeye assistant.
"Well, first of all, Coach Bolls is a guy that is a great team person," Dantonio said at a Friday press conference. "He's a great guy to have on your staff. He's extremely loyal. He's extremely intelligent. He's a guy that coached tight ends in the NFL. He coached the offensive line long periods of time throughout his career. He's been a coordinator at the highest level. When you're a coordinator at the highest level, you're going to take some shots at some times, and he's weathered the storm."
The Spartan staff also includes graduate assistant Rob Harley, a former OSU safety on the 2002 title team and the great-great nephew of former Buckeye Chic Harley, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
"I like to hire graduate assistant coaches who have played for me because I think it's special to have somebody who's paid the price, been in your program," Dantonio said. "There's that built-in loyalty. You know who he is as a person. You know the hard work he's experienced. You've had an opportunity to coach him, so he knows things conceptually."
For his part, Dantonio has stayed in touch Tressel, regularly speaking with his former boss. Ever the optimist, Dantonio even held out hope that Tressel's rooting interests may align with his former employee over his former employer tonight.
"I talk to Coach Tress every now and then," Dantonio said. "I talk to him just to settle me as a person. I listen to his advice. He doesn't talk X's and O's. He talks to me more about how to handle situations. He's been a great friend and a great mentor. I also hear from Nick Saban a little bit.
"But it's nice because it's people who have an influence on me over the course of my life. This is a big moment. I would like to think he's sitting back and watching. I don't know if he's got green on or not (Saturday) night, but maybe."
Meyer never coached for the Spartans, but he faced them both on and off the field during his four years in South Bend, Ind., as the wide receivers coach for Notre Dame.
"When I was at Notre Dame, we played Michigan State," he said. "I always thought it was an excellent school, had some recruiting battles with them. I remember TJ Duckett. We were in that with Michigan State. I always admired Michigan State over the years as a school, the stadium, the whole package."
Dantonio will be in the familiar position of having a chance to ruin Ohio State's shot at a national championship. In 1998, Michigan State saddled the Buckeyes with their only loss of the season, a 28-24 defeat in Ohio Stadium on Nov. 7. The Buckeyes went on to beat Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl and finish with a No. 2 ranking.
"As the game progressed, we became more confident," Dantonio said. "Won the game at the end. Four blitzes at the end of the game I believe from the 20-yard in. It was a great football game. As far as what that has to do with this game, I haven't thought about it in that regard. I just haven't because it's been quite a while ago. This is a different football team at Michigan State. It's a different Ohio State football team.
"Really, to be honest with you, I know people may not agree with this in Ohio, but the magnitude of this game I think is bigger just based on from my perspective sitting here with the green helmet, from their perspective as well, because it sends you someplace."
With both teams directing most of their hatred at Michigan, no real rivalry has developed over the years. However, with both squads heading to the East Division of the 14-team Big Ten in 2014, the opportunity exists for the Buckeyes and Spartans to develop a little more animosity towards each other.
"That's pretty cool," OSU defensive tacke Michael Bennett said in a conference call on Monday. "I think you can say a rivalry will start from that. A rivalry comes from teams facing each other year in and year out. I know that we give Michigan State a hard time and they definitely give us a hard time. They're a great team year in and year out. They're a tough-nosed football team. That's the kind of football that we love to play."