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Despite disappointing loss in Cotton Bowl, MSU football's future is bright

January 10, 2016
Junior linebacker Riley Bullough tries to tackle Alabama quarterback Jake Coker in the third quarter during the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic against Alabama on Dec. 31, 2015 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Crimson Tide defeated the Spartans, 38-0.
Junior linebacker Riley Bullough tries to tackle Alabama quarterback Jake Coker in the third quarter during the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic against Alabama on Dec. 31, 2015 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Crimson Tide defeated the Spartans, 38-0. —
Photo by Julia Nagy | and Julia Nagy The State News

“We have a winning program, period,” Jones said. “Our results speak for themselves... In the time that Mark Dantonio has been there, we’ve been on track for nothing but one success after another.”

When asked to compare his championship winning teams to head coach Mark Dantonio’s 2015 edition of the Spartans, Jones said this year’s group is “the best of the 21st century” and people can’t really compare them because it is two different generations of football.

“They are setting their own legacy,” Jones said. “This administration, from Lou Anna K. Simon to Mark Hollis to Mark Dantonio and his staff and Tom Izzo with basketball, they’ve done an amazing job and I’m so proud of them.”

Despite the lopsided 38-0 loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff, Jones believes MSU has a program built to last and used the words of legendary football coach Vince Lombardi to describe what he believes is the next step for the Spartans.

“Vince Lombardi has a saying, he said that ‘the real glory goes to the person that’s knocked down on their knees and gets up,’” Jones said. “And so they were knocked down to their knees in the playoff game against Alabama, but they will rise. If a young man is swayed because of the loss to Alabama, they don’t need to be a part of our program anyway.”


So what is next for the Spartans?

In the short term, they have a very solid team on paper next year. Defensive impact players such as junior middle linebacker Riley Bullough, sophomore outside linebacker Jon Reschke and sophomore defensive lineman Malik McDowell will be returning next season. Also, fifth-year senior linebacker Ed Davis should be returning if the NCAA grants him a medical redshirt as expected.

MSU has a favorable schedule next year, aside from a week three matchup at Notre Dame after a bye week. The Spartans will host University of Wisconsin, Ohio State University and University of Michigan in the 2016 season, along with Brigham Young University and Northwestern.

MSU’s defense should be good enough to keep them in any game next season. The bigger question is whether the guy under center will be good enough to steal the close wins.

In the 2012 season MSU had a talented defense, but ineffective quarterback play by Andrew Maxwell led to several close losses. The 2012 edition of the Spartans went 7-6, losing to Notre Dame, Ohio State, Iowa and a “Hoke-era” U-M team, among others. Five of MSU’s losses were by a combined 13 points.

They were a powerful team, but they didn’t have a quarterback that could lead them down the field in the two-minute drill, or a quarterback that could get the first down to eat the rest of the clock up and win the game.

So really the question is — who between Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry is going to be the guy that wins the close ones in 2016?

“They’ve had plenty of reps in practice,” senior quarterback Connor Cook said.

“They know the offense just as good as me. So they’re experienced guys. Tyler is going to be a senior next year. Damion is going to be a junior. So those guys what they’re going to take with them going into next year is just the experience and knowledge of the offense and just the familiarity and comfort that they have.

“Obviously, they have the experience from playing in the Ohio State game. Playing on the road at the Shoe, that’s hard to win at, and they won there. They can take that game away.”

The long haul

In the long term, MSU seems like a program built to contend both nationally and in the Big Ten for years to come. Dantonio has routinely turned two- and three-star recruits into top-notch players. But he now has more at his disposal.

The 2015 recruiting class, which finished ranked No. 22 nationally on Yahoo’s rivals.com, featured instant playmakers like freshman running back LJ Scott and freshman linebacker Andrew Dowell and it was considered one of MSU’s best ever.

The recruits in the 2016 cycle could be even better — the young players across the nation have taken notice of what Dantonio is doing in East Lansing.

The 2016 recruiting class is ranked No. 12 on Yahoo’s rivals.com and features five commits who will play in the Army All-American game — wide receiver Cameron Chambers, wide receiver Donnie Corley, linebacker Brandon Randle, defensive end Joshua King and defensive back Demetric Vance — along with highly-touted quarterback recruit Messiah deWeaver.

“They reached higher goals like they set out to do early in the season so it meant a lot (for them) to get to that point,” deWeaver said.

“I think a lot of kids in the next class in 2017 and on will see Michigan State as one of the elite programs. ... We have a lot of kids in our class that are All-Americans and some of the higher (rated) kids in the country so I think it’s only going to get better.”

The Spartans have several players starring in the NFL right now, such as running back Le’Veon Bell and quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Brian Hoyer, both who led their respective teams to the playoffs. There could be more to come — Cook, Shilique Calhoun and Jack Conklin have all been mentioned as possible first round draft picks.

Players such as Darqueze Dennard and Trae Waynes are recent first round selections. The recruits have noticed the amount of talent Dantonio is sending to the next level and they want the same thing.

“It says a lot about that staff and what they can do,” deWeaver said. “It just shows you that they know what they’re doing. ... I think it says a lot about how great of coaches they are.”

MSU’s 65 wins since 2010 are tied for fourth most among NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision teams and Dantonio and his staff are recruiting some of the most talented young players MSU has ever seen. So if you’re asking for a forecast of the future of MSU football, it’s bright.

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