For many years Michigan State was referred to as the sleeping giant in college football. The Spartans inexplicable and confounding underachievement vexed fans and alums alike. So many times in the last forty years it seemed like we were on the cusp of greatness or return to the lofty heights reached under Biggie Munn and Duffy Daugherty only to fall short.
The Spartans won 11 games in back to back seasons for the first time in school history. In fact, this was the first instance of back to back double digit winning seasons as well. Now, I'm not that short sighted nor unaware of college football history to suggest that, "That's it! Game over! Give us all your championships!". I understand that nothing in college football (or the world for that matter) occurs in a vacuum.
What I propose after the jump are reasons why this recent success is not a fluke and how the Spartans are poised to remain in the national polls and near the top of the B1G standings.1. Facilities/Resources:
The B1G is home to some of the most storied and instantly recognizable football stadiums in the country: The Big House, the Horseshoe, Beaver, and Memorial Stadiums so while MSU can't compete on name recognition alone we can hang our hat on the fact that MSU has been ranked in the top 20 for football attendance for the last 55 years. That's not a typo. MSU does not currently have a stadium that is in the top 20 in capacity. That means that year in and year out you can guarantee to a player that he will play every home game (and most of his road games: ND, OSU, UW, PSU, NU-L) in front of some the largest crowds in college football. Now, this doesn't differentiate MSU much from the teams that habitually reside at the top of the standings but it is a benefit to recruiting none the less.
Speaking of Spartan Stadium it has undergone multiple renovations in the past five years, they have installed a new press box, club level seating and luxury suites. This season alone they are adding three new, state of the art scoreboards. There is a plan to renovate the north side of the stadium to put in a grand entrance and plaza as well. These recent additions coupled with the $15 million addition to the Duffy Daugherty Football building/Skandalaris Football center and the existent Clara Bell Smith student center (built with a $2M gift from Steve Smith - a the time the largest donation by an athlete to his alma mater) give MSU a claim to some of the best football and athletic training facilities in the country. We may not be the absolute best, but we're somewhere in the conversation.
As far as resources go, Forbes magazine recently ranked MSU as the 20th most valuable football team in the country. Forbes noted that MSU had the third highest football profit after UM and PSU.
MSU is consistently in the top ten for total student enrollment and as such has one of the largest alumni bases to draw on for donations and support for programs.
We've got the money, we've got the alumni and we've got the facilities.
In May 2012, Mark Hollis was named the Athletic Director of the year by Street & Smith's Sportsbusiness Journal. He's only 49 years old, an MSU alum and Tom Izzo's roommate when Tom was a graduate assistant under Jud Heathcote. Oh, yeah! He recently got paid, signing a new contract that brings him up to possibly the fourth highest paid AD in the conference (two schools didn't release the data). Hollis is innovative, well paid, loves his job and health permitting should be here for a long time.
One of the problems MSU has encountered repeatedly in it's history, which has caused the athletic program to stumble is dissension in the ranks of the leadership. Mistrust, dislike, miscommunication, and just general bad feeling have plagued the relationships between the MSU President, Athletic Director, Board of Trustees and Head Football Coach. Biggie Munn (as coach) and Ralph Young (as AD) didn't get along and the Spartans still succeeded, but in every other instance, discord in leadership led to unmet goals, if not humiliation and embarrassment.
I'm happy to report that President Simon, AD Hollis, the BOT, and Coach Dantonio are all on the same page. Finally, we have a plethora of talented individuals working toward the same goal. As an added bonus, many of the coaches of the other high profile and/or revenue sports (Tom Izzo, Tom Anastos, and Suzy Merchant among others) get along and are working together to build the Spartan brand.
We've got a cadre of leaders that rivals any in the country, in their talent and dedication to their school.
I touched on this yesterday, but MSU has as good a coaching staff as we have seen in a long time. Saban and Perles had success but Saban was 10 games over .500 largely due to short tenure and his 9-2 record in his last season. Perles was a game over .500 for his career and left under sanction and in disgrace due to his handling of the AD/Football coach position.
HeckDorland over at The Only Colors covered this a lot better (warning it's from last year and a little long) than I can. The premise is that the MSU coaching staff has taken a bunch of low ranked/overlooked recruits and coached them into All-B1G performers. Heck notes that in the 2010 season MSU had the most All-B1G selections of any team in the conference while having an class with an average star ranking of 2.7 which was significantly below the class rankings of UM and OSU among others. As I noted yesterday every single one of MSU's defensive starters received some sort of All-B1G recognition.
Our coaching staff has shown a distinct ability to recognize talent, and identify players that are coachable and fit their system. A great example of our talent evaluation abilities (or the ridiculousness of the star system) is Caleb Benenoch. An unheralded OL recruit out of Texas, he picked up an early offer from East Lansing and committed. Once word of his commitment to MSU made the news, he began to receive notice and attention from more of the big boys and has subsequently decommitted. It is great to see that a kid from Texas would consider MSU without having made a visit. It shows that our coaches reputation is known.
Coach Dantoinio has also begun to create a coaching tree as Dan Enos and Don Treadwell have left to take head coaching jobs in the MAC (CMU and Miami (OH) respectively). Texas A&M tried to poach Defensive Coordinator Pat Narduzzi from the staff, but due to his loyalty to the Spartans and a hefty pay raise he decided to stick around. Undoubtedly, he will leave rather soon for his own head coaching position, but the fact that he does will only make a position on Coach Dantonio's staff that much more attractive.
You want well paid, talented coaches on your staff and MSU has them in spades.
You could compare MSU's recent resurgence to what the Badgers did in the 90's under Barry Alvarez except that MSU can point to a history that UW couldn't at that point in time. Players want to be a part of something. There are some that want to be the guy to start something new but most want to compare themselves to the greats, to point to their place in a storied history. There is a reason why Brady Hoke found it so easy to recruit after his first season in Ann Arbor. It's the same reason Urban was able to clean up upon taking over at OSU. I'm not suggesting we have the same history as either of those two programs, but we have a history (in all sports) that most schools not named UM or OSU would love to have.
Our overall athletic program is on a roll. We were the only school to make their sports post season (bowl or NCAA tournament) in football, basketball (mens and womens), hockey and baseball. We also made the NCAA's in women's golf, rowing, and gymnastics. My point is not that this directly impacts football recruiting but another indication of the talent and success of our overall athletic department.
It's a lot easier to maintain or even reload a winning program than it is to create one from scratch.
What it all means:
I don't mean to suggest that we've somehow an athletic juggernaut and that it is meaningless to play the games. MSU's recent success in football is not a based on luck. There has been a concentrated effort by many people to return the Spartans to on field success. For those of you born in the 1990's or with short memories, this success is more in keeping with Spartan tradition than were the underachieving teams of Booby Williams and John L Smith in the beginning of the aughts.
Anything can happen, but based on what has been built, the B1G should expect to see the Spartans at or near the top of the conference for the near future.
MONDAY | Cocktail Party Preview
TUESDAY | Smartest Guys in the Room
WEDNESDAY | Shh...Don't wake the Giant
THURSDAY | Michigan State Potluck
FRIDAY | Keeping the Enemy Close