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4 is better than 8, a phone call to Saban and a teacher named Salem

December 31, 2015
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio looks at Alabama head coach Nick Saban during a press regarding the upcoming Cotton Bowl game on Dec. 30, 2015 at the Omni Dallas Hotel in Dallas, Texas.
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio looks at Alabama head coach Nick Saban during a press regarding the upcoming Cotton Bowl game on Dec. 30, 2015 at the Omni Dallas Hotel in Dallas, Texas. —
Photo by Julia Nagy | and Julia Nagy The State News

DALLAS — Before No. 3-ranked MSU takes on No. 2-ranked Alabama in the Cotton Bowl for a berth in the national championship game, here are a few facts you might not know:

Coaches are fine with four

Most college football fans are happy that there is finally a playoff system, but many feel that four is not quite enough teams.

Nevertheless, MSU head football coach Mark Dantonio and Alabama head football coach Nick Saban are just fine with the current setup.

"I think when you start to throw eight teams in there, I think it's going to get a little bit even more muddled as you move forward," Dantonio said. "We have our championship game within our conference which sort of served as a way to get into this. And right now we're coming into playing our 14th game. So it's a lot of football games."

Saban had very similar concerns, both of them believe that adding another potential game to the schedule would be too much for college athletes.

"I think that from a fan's perspective, having a four-team playoff, making sure that you get the best teams involved, you know, creates a lot of excitement for fans. And I think it's a very fair way to do it," Saban said. "(But) I think if we play as many games as we play now and go to eight teams, we're going to be playing too many games."

Saban helped MSU more than you know

Dantonio has said before that he probably wouldn't be at MSU if it weren't for Saban, considering Saban was the first person to bring Dantonio to East Lansing when he hired him as a defensive backs coach in 1995. But that statement has even more truth to it than most would assume.

Before MSU athletic director Mark Hollis hired Dantonio, he made a call to Saban to ask for his opinion on Mark.

"I thought Mark would be a really good candidate to be a head coach at Michigan State. He had lots of ties there," Saban said. "He'd done a really good job everywhere he'd ever coached. He'd been in a position of responsibility and done an outstanding job in that. He certainly has the right kind of personal character and integrity to have the kind of leadership that I think is necessary to sustain a program with some kind of consistency and success because of the values and culture that you create.

"So that was my assessment of what I thought a good direction for Michigan State would be. And I would say that, sitting across from Mark right now, he sure hasn't disappointed anybody."

Thank Salem for Cook's progress

For Dantonio, senior quarterback Connor Cook's maturation into one of the best quarterbacks in the country has come from being in the same system with the same coaches for five years.

Being a quarterback is extremely difficult. And turn-over, changing offensive coordinators and switching schemes makes it that much harder. Luckily for Spartan fans, though, Cook has not had to deal with change in his time at MSU.

"Brad Salem, our quarterback coach, did an outstanding job with him through the process," Dantonio said. "He's been in the system for five years with the same coaches, coaching him both as a coordinator basically in the same system. So he knows our system inside and out.

"So when we redefine something or readjust, he's able to adapt very, very quickly. But we thought that in coming to camp and in watching him in person, he had a great deal of upside, tremendous potential. We knew he needed to grow, get a little bit bigger, those type of things. He's filled out as most young people do."

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