CHICAGO — Michigan State football is looking to rebound in 2017 like they did in 2013, and head coach Mark Dantonio believes it’s possible.
Dantonio spoke today at the Big Ten Conference Football Media Days and compared this upcoming season to 2013 when Michigan State finished 13-1 and collected Big Ten and Rose Bowl championships. He didn’t go as far as saying the Spartans will be back at the top of the league but noticed some similarities between the two seasons.
“I compare this very much to our 2013 season in a lot of ways,” Dantonio said. “We didn’t have a tailback coming in, then we have a strong contingent of tailbacks. Our quarterback situation was changing a little bit. Connor Cook was coming, a void was there and we had to fill that void. So a lot of those type of things are happening now.”
Michigan State finished 7-6 in 2012 and bounced back the following year to win the Big Ten. It was the only year Michigan State didn’t win at least 11 games from 2010-2015 as the Spartans looked to replace a number of star players, including quarterback Kirk Cousins.
The Spartans struggled to replace a number of starters last year, finishing 3-9 and missing out on the postseason for the first time under Dantonio. Despite losing many players to graduation and the NFL, Dantonio pointed to injuries as a key contributor to last year’s terrible season.
However, now he believes it could benefit the Spartans going forward.
“Last year we played nine true freshmen and we played another redshirt freshman, so we were young,” Dantonio said. “Some of those positions were positions of control, I would say — the Mike linebacker when Riley Bullough went down. Our quarterback situation — Brian Lewerke was a redshirt freshman as well. Those were very, very critical positions that you needed to have guys with more experience.
“But the most important thing is that we go forward with conviction and I sense a sense of responsibility with our young players. Just because you’re young does not mean that you don’t have the opportunities to lead. In fact, sometimes things need to be cleared away for the young players to take root and lead.”
Off the field Michigan State also experienced its share of issues. Four players were dismissed from the team in relation to two separate sexual assault incidents that received national attention all throughout the spring. Michigan State also did not retain former football staffer Curtis Blackwell for his involvement in one of the sexual assault cases.
Twelve players with eligibility remaining also left the program for various reasons.
Dantonio believes the program is past the offseason incidents and has came together as a team.
“We’re prepared for the next phase of our lives,” Dantonio said. “I think you’re always challenged. You’re always going to go through challenges. The more turmoil sometimes you have, maybe if you take it in the right vein maybe the stronger you get as you moved forward. So I sense the togetherness on our football team. I sense a sense of responsibility.”
Michigan State opens the 2017 season against Bowling Green on Sept. 2 at Spartan Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 12 p.m.