Nick Saban had a major impact at MSU. Sure he won, and to his credit, he didn’t inherit a Michigan State program that was in good shape, but he also left in his wake a voluminous amount of people, players, and others that were mistreated, frustrated, and angry.

The amazing part is that even after he left for LSU he wanted to come back, and then MSU AD Clarence Underwood wasn’t against it, but was not prepared to just ignore all of the ancillary damage of hurricane Saban.

Fast forward to today. Saban has evolved on the field as a coach, but as his #2 Crimson Tide prepare to play #3 Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl his time at MSU still follows him like a shadow.

To his credit Saban has admitted that Dantonio has done what he never did at MSU. “I always thought he’d do great if he ever got an opportunity to be a head coach. He’s certainly done a lot better job at Michigan State than I ever could do. So he’s done really well. I’m proud of him.”

But when he left MSU he told ESPN, “We were never number one. That was always Michigan.” That didn’t sit well around the Spartan Nation and Dantonio has clearly proven it not accurate.

Spartan Nation was in Atlanta yesterday for a joint press conference with the four college football playoff coaches and we asked him about his Michigan comments. Saban, after being several years removed from those comments, seems to now remember them differently.

“First of all, I don’t recall making a statement like that. But I think Mark has done a fantastic job there. They’ve won three Big Ten Championships. They have an opportunity to win a National Championship this year. So I’ve had nothing but respect for Michigan State all my life. I spent 10 years there. I had a lot of friends there that still are good friends. I almost feel like in some ways it’s a part of my home for the time we spent there and the relationships that we’re able to build. I have nothing but positive things to say about Michigan State and the great program that they have now and the accomplishments that they have.”

Regardless of the circumstance, MSU is in a far better position with Mark Dantonio than they ever were with Saban, but it doesn’t make this game any less of a family reunion.

Saban has kept close with MSU head coach Tom Izzo and he has numerous connections still with many Spartans including Ken Mannie, Harlon Barnett, Dantonio and numerous others. Certainly, Saban’s acerbic personality compounded by some horrible leadership at certain times and from certain people while at MSU didn’t make it easy. But everyone can see his imprint still on the program and accept that MSU is better than when he came here and frankly better off that he left. It’s time to move on.

Dantonio has. In the midst of a hot recruiting time, he still has his eyes on the Tide that his team faces in 20 days. “I’ve taken every opportunity to watch film in the midst of this recruiting. What I knew about Alabama first of all is what Nick has done there because he was hired really at the same time that I was hired at Michigan State. So I’ve sort of seen him take Alabama back to a championship-type level, obviously. When I watch their football team, I see guys play with great technique. I watch their corners, their balance, I watch how firm their defensive line is. I watch their running back. I watch their offensive line. I see great precision. I see great technique, and I see guys playing together.”

Saban says of his MSU prep, “Our focus has mostly been on recruiting. But while you’re recruiting and flying around on the plane you do watch the other teams that you’re going to play. One thing I did see after the Florida game on Saturday was I got home just in time to watch Michigan State go 22 plays in 9 minutes and something and score a touchdown. That told me probably as much as I needed to know about that team in terms of the grit that they had, the kind of competitive spirit they had, how they believed in one another and how they thought they could win the game. And the fact they’ve won several games this year late in games by making big plays tells you a lot about the confidence of a team and how they compete in a game.” The Alabama head coach added, “So they’re a very physical team. They run the ball, play really good defense. So this is going to be a really challenging game for us. We’re going to have 7 practices before Christmas break, and we’ll come back and start up in Dallas and have a regular week so our players had finals week this week, so we’re basically we just did a couple workouts trying to keep them in a little bit of shape.”

Regardless of the past, Saban is one of the elite college football coaches in the nation and his Tide are formidable, but Dantonio and his merry band of Dawgs are not intimidated or scared and he wants the nation to know it. “We’ve got guys too on our football team that know how to win, and right now that’s what we’ve been able to do. We’ve won a lot of football games, so quite sure we’ll come to play.”

Here is the video from in Atlanta in which Spartan Nation asked Saban about his comments:

 

Cotton Bowl Classic

AT&T Stadium Arlington, Texas

Alabama vs. Michigan State

Kickoff: 8 p.m. Dec. 31, 2015

TV: ESPN

Facts: No.2 Alabama 12-1, No. 3 Michigan State 12-1

Vegas: Alabama by 9.5

Series Record: Alabama leads 1-0