Mark Dantonio has built a team of leaders and has the Spartan program back on solid ground. Photo courtesy of Starr Portice.

 

 

With the beginning of the college football season only a few months away, many popular sports publications are not wasting any time in terms of picking conference champions and projected bowl matchups.

 

The one team many of these publications are running with to win the revamped Big Ten is Michigan State, which isn’t a huge surprise considering the team returning from last season combined with the huge ordeal which took place in Columbus, Ohio. The Spartans have the returning talent and a coaching staff which has gone through the ups and downs of the program since they arrived.

 

After all, it was Mark Dantonio who said that pride comes before the fall – and the Spartans are still trying to finish off their seasons on a high note. When one takes into account the Capital One Bowl loss last season with the other bowl losses, finishing seasons on a high note has become a struggle for the green and white.

 

You must somewhat wonder why reputable sports outlets are picking Michigan State to triumph over the competition in 2011, but if you look you don’t have to go too far. A senior quarterback coupled with a now-healthy head coach gives the fans in East Lansing and beyond a good feeling, one in which comes from the tidings of success.

 

And with success comes leadership, a quality most vibrant in teams which are successful over the course of a season and finish off their campaigns in a rousing rendition of glory and elation. It is a quality Dantonio preaches about his football team, from the coaching staff to the players to the moments which make a bunch of football players a true team in every sense of the word.  He spke with Hondo recently for an exclusive interview with Spartan Nation Radio.

 

“We had a great locker room last year, we had great chemistry in our locker room,” Dantonio said. “The way the season unfolded, leadership thrust upon people – other staff members, our players – and I think they gravitated that, and it paid dividends last year and will continue to do that as we continue to build a foundation here.”

 

The leadership which spreads around the entire football program becomes even more important when it turns close games into victories. The slim margin between failure and conquest is based upon execution, but there are just some things teams can’t prepare for in advance. In some moments, experience plays a huge role as teams have to treat certain situations with a different scheme or attack.

 

Michigan State gained some experience last year, most of it in a good sense. They learned how to win with one last chance (against Notre Dame), or how to come back and keep perfection afloat (against Northwestern). Dantonio believes these are the types of moments which will benefit his team this upcoming season and help prepare them as they now have an even bigger target on their backs.

 

“Having been there before gives you big upside,” Dantonio said. “When you’ve got an experienced quarterback, experienced wide receivers … across the board we’ve got an experienced football team. I’m not looking for arrogance; I want a quiet confidence, knowing that we can play hard and do the things we’re supposed to do that can result in success.

 

“Obviously the ball is gonna bounce sometimes, and the other team’s got good players and is motivated as well. If we can go into every game and feel a sense of entitlement, then good things are gonna happen.”

 

The swagger has returned at Michigan State, even though it took a few years to reach this level. The players are excited, the coaching staff continues to put them in good positions to succeed, and Spartans fans from everywhere are as wound up in emotion as they have been in quite a long time.

 

The perfect mix of leadership, experience and talent is what separates Michigan State from most teams in not only the Big Ten but all over the country. Those are things that can’t really be taught.