Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cousins named finalist for Manning Award

The headline says it all. Good luck to Kirk — he's going to need it, as the list also includes Matt Barkley, Robert Griffin III, Landry Jones, Case Keenum, Andrew Luck, Kellen Moore, Brandon Weeden, Russell Wilson and Tyler Wilson.

The bowl does take bowl performance into account. Here is the full release.

Spartans excited to make history in first championship game

As Chris McDonald put it, the players and people involved in this game will be able to tell their kids and grandkids that they were a part of history in the inaugural Big Ten Football Championship Game.

Here is my story on the players' excitement for being in the first title game. 

Big Ten says title game seat-filling is bogus

This morning, a Craigslist ad made the rounds online saying someone was looking for people to be in downtown Indy on Saturday night wearing red or dark green, to expect large crowds and noise and get paid $75. Hmm, sounds an awful like the Big Ten Football Championship Game.

Well, the Big Ten quickly tried to get the word out and say it was a hoax, but that's not going to stop the nation from making fun of the Big Ten. Mark Hollis apparently is quite upset about this, as he spoke to a class about it this morning.

If you remember, the game sold out in two hours in July and MSU quickly sold its allotment. As of this morning, Wisconsin had about 2,000 tickets left. Badger fans haven't been quick to pick up tickets, waiting instead for the expected Rose Bowl trip.

While this seat-filling issue is a PR nightmare, I do believe it's a farce. However, what is not a scam is that there are a ton of RIDICULOUSLY CHEAP tickets on StubHub. MSU got the head start and it looks like there should be more green than red at Lucas-Oil Stadium. But given the apparent apathy from Wisconsin fans regarding this game, it seems it wouldn't be hard for MSU to take over the stadium.

We'll see what happens. I expect the stadium to be at least 90-percent full and I'm just glad I got my tickets for free as a gift. If this seat-filling thing was real, it obviously would end with Kramer accepting the Stagg Trophy after the game.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Notes and video from Dantonio presser 11/29

When Mark Dantonio talks longer than Tom Izzo, you know it's a big week.

The first Big Ten Football Championship Game had Dantonio a little fired up at his press conference. So much so that when he was asked about Urban Meyer, he he put his hand up and said MSU is focused on its goals ahead.

--Dantonio reiterated that MSU and Wisconsin were the two best teams in the conference, and I'm sure everyone can agree.

--Asked about being as much as a 10-point underdog, Dantonio said it could persuade neutral fans to root for MSU. "That's not all bad. We're the little guy. Everyone wants the little guy to win."

--Along those lines, Dantonio reminded everyone that in-between Wisconsin's quick start and late comeback, MSU went on a 31-3 run in the previous meeting, dominating the middle stages of that game.

--As for any changes in preparation, the only thing Dantonio said was that they would turn up the heat in the Duffy indoor practice field to prepare for Lucas Oil Stadium. I'm sure the players will enjoy that.

--Dantonio said a conference championship is the best way to determine a champion, even though MSU would have won the Rose Bowl berth this year in the old system.

--Asked again if he's ever played a team twice in one year, Dantonio said the last time he recalled doing that was in eighth grade, when they played every team twice.

--Since the day Dantonio was introduced as head coach, he and athletics director Mark Hollis have not hidden their desire to go to a Rose Bowl. They're not afraid to talk about their goals because, "If you want to dream big, you have to talk about it."

--Izzo spoke after and had some football-related things. Among them, he said the Izzone needs to ratch it up a notch and said he the football team deserves a completely full student section. "The tickets are sold, they just gotta go."

--Izzo said some magical things have happened in Lucas Oil Stadium, including two wins in the 2009 NCAA Tournament and an appearance in the 2010 Final Four (even though it was a loss), and hopes the football team can get the same thing. Indianapolis also is where Izzo won the 2000 National Championship (at the RCA Dome).

--Izzo wishes he could go to Saturday's game (hoops plays on Sunday), but is glad he can still watch it. He's always been a football guy. He talked with Tubby Smith recently and when Smith said MSU had things going in football and basketball, Izzo loved hearing that.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Spartans honored on all-conference teams

No individual awards for MSU, but plenty on the all-conference offenses and defenses by both the coaches and media:

First-team offense: Joel Foreman (both)

First-team defense: Jerel Worthy (both), Johnny Adams (coaches), Trenton Robinson (media)

Second-team offense: B.J. Cunningham (both), Kirk Cousins (coaches), Brian Linthicum (coaches)

Second-team defense: William Gholston (both), Isaiah Lewis (both), Max Bullough (coaches), Denicos Allen (media), Johnny Adams (media)

Honorable mention (coaches): Denicos Allen, Le’Veon Bell, Keshawn Martin, Trenton Robinson, Marcus Rush

Honorable mention (media): Le’Veon Bell, Max Bullough, Dan Conroy, Kirk Cousins, Darqueze Dennard, Brian Linthicum, Chris McDonald, Chris Norman, Kevin Pickelman, Marcus Rush

Big Ten Sportsmanship Award (MSU): Kirk Cousins (duh)


Not many surprises. In most years, Cunningham would be first-team, but Marvin McNutt and A.J. Jenkins have had spectacular years. After last year, it seemed Cousins would be poised to be first-team, but the arrival of Russell Wilson and his record-breaking efficiency changed that.

Looking at the list, every single player on MSU's defense received some sort of honor. That's pretty incredible. There is a lot of young talent there, as well. Seven players honored are sophomores or freshmen, six of them on defense. The defense only loses two starters to graduation, with junior Jerel Worthy's future uncertain. The future is bright for Pat Narduzzi (or whoever takes over the defense).

Notes from Big Ten players teleconference

Yesterday, we got the coaches, today we got three players from each team in the Big Ten Football Championship game.

Surprisingly, each player was excited to be playing in Saturday's game and wants to go to the Rose Bowl. We got team captains for MSU and Russell Wilson, Montee Ball and defensive lineman Patrick Butrym from Wisconsin. Here are some more specific topics from each team.


--Trenton Robinson stole the show with his typical emotional answers. Among them, he said the feeling leading up to this game is the most excited he has ever felt at MSU.

--Pat Narduzzi should include Robinson as a reference on his resume. Robinson called him, "a genius," saying any mistake the defense makes is because of the players, not the coach. Robinson said Narduzzi always keeps things simple and does a great job preparing the players for anything they will face.

--Robinson called games against Wisconsin, "how football is." When Ball comes through the hole, Robinson knows it's going to be a collision and said he loves that.

--Robinson was not surprised the Badgers are as much as a 10-point favorite. He said MSU is used to the underdog role. Joel Foreman didn't know who was favored, but said the players wouldn't care. Kirk Cousins said there shouldn't be a need for anymore motivation other than the Rose Bowl.

--Foreman said the game will be determined by physicality, surprising from an offensive lineman (sarcasm). He said games against Wisconsin will always come down to that.

--Cousins told Wilson after the first meeting that he thought the teams would see each other again. He also called Wilson "the real deal" after the game.

--Cousins said he thinks MSU is playing its best football of the year and that Wisconsin doesn't have a weakness. He had better hope the second part isn't true.


--Montee Ball said he took himself out of the first game when he got banged in the second quarter. On TV, it didn't look like Ball knew where he was, but Ball said he remembers everything and the trainers ran all the tests and determined he was good to go.

--Ball echoed everyone else on Wisconsin saying MSU deserved to win the game, but he added that the Badgers shot themselves in the foot. Some missed tackles, turnovers and special teams errors are what he's talking about. After stubbing their toe last year, the Badgers seem to be having foot issues.

--After the loss to Ohio State, Ball said the Badgers thought all their goals were gone. "We're human. We thought all of our hopes, all of our dreams, were out the window."

--Russell Wilson said the Badgers expected to face adversity in the first meeting, and was proud of how his team fought back to tie up the game in the fourth quarter.

--Asked if MSU/Wisconsin was becoming a football rivalry, Butrym said he thought so, although this series' recent history has been determined by home field.

--Ball said the game isn't about revenge, rather, it's about redemption.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Notes from Dantonio and Bielema teleconference

MSU head coach Mark Dantonio and Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema both spoke for about a half-hour during a media teleconference today for the Big Ten Football Championship Game. Players from each team will speak tomorrow.

Most important news is that Darqueze Dennard will be good to go. Dantonio said he could have played against Northwestern. Also, Wisconsin has opened as a 7.5-point is a 10-point favorite. Not totally surprising. Should provide some more motivation for the Spartans.

Notes from Dantonio:

--Both coaches agreed that the best two teams were playing in Indianapolis. They aren't the four "marquee" programs (Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska and Penn State), but it's a bit of a new era in the Big Ten.

--Dantonio said the path MSU took to get here was a journey that started in 2007. That season set the tone for things to come. (I will forever argue that the Penn State win that year was the biggest of Dantonio's career).

--Asked how an appearance in this game can affect recruiting, Dantonio said players want to be on a big stage, and this game provides almost as big a stage as you can find. He also talked about the progress his recruiting classes have made, mentioning how the special teams units are full of young players who were able to redshirt. Dantonio said the 2009 class was the first where the coaches thought they could win big with those players, and that has continued.

--Asked about last year, Dantonio said the Spartans thought they deserved to be in a BCS bowl, but they didn't play up to that level in Orlando and that ended that conversation.

--Dantonio on the Rose Bowl: "If you're not setting your goals to be there, why be here?" 

--Interestingly, Dantonio said he had the team vote for captains twice in 2009, when Kirk Cousins became the second sophomore captain in school history.

--Asked what to improve upon from the previous meeting, Dantonio said MSU has to get off to a quicker start and stop the run better. Wisconsin's offense sputtered when Montee Ball went out in the previous meeting and the Spartans can't count on that again.

Notes from Bielema:

--Bielema said his secondary has taken the two last-second touchdown passes it gave up in losses and turned them into a positive. The stats don't lie: Wisconsin leads the Big Ten in pass defense.

--Asked if he'd be playing the revenge card, Bielema said the Badgers weren't talking about it. He said MSU earned the victory in the previous meeting. However, Bielema hasn't forgotten about the Hail Mary. He asked Barry Alvarez how long it takes to get over something like that. Alvarez told him, "Never."

--Both coaches have never had to play a team twice in a season. Bielema said a rematch is fun, with new film to look at.

--Asked what to improve upon from the previous meeting, Bielema said prevent the big plays by MSU. Almost all of MSU's touchdowns came from big plays, as well as the blocked field goal.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thoughts on MSU's win vs. Northwestern

Outright champs. At 10-2 (7-1), the Spartans will not be sharing the Legends division with anyone. It is the first time in school history that MSU has won 10+ games in back-to-back seasons. This season has proved that last year's 11-2 year was not a fluke, especially given the October schedule the Spartans faced. After the Notre Dame loss, it appeared this would be a struggle of a season, but the Spartans won three straight against Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin before falling to Nebraska at the end of the month. After that stretch, it was clear MSU could do something special.

They have gone 4-0 in back-to-back Novembers as well. This year's senior class is 24-8 in Big Ten play, which is tied with Ohio State for best in the conference over that span. Saturday's win also was Northwestern's first Senior Day loss since 2003. That's pretty amazing.

Everyone stayed healthy it appears. That really was the most important thing. William Gholston and Marcus Rush both got dinged up, but stayed in the game. Darqueze Dennard was on the dress list, but didn't play. He hasn't played the last two weeks with an ankle injury so the hope is he'll be good to go in the championship game next week.

The rushing game was strong. MSU rushed for 166 yards and averaged 4.6 per carry (according to Gametracker). Le'Veon Bell had 86 yards on 16 carries and many, many broken tackles. He ran harder than I've ever seen him before. He is clearly MSU's No. 1 back. Even Kirk Cousins has 25 yards and took advantage of the holes Northwestern gave him. Nebraska's defense turned their backs and dared him to run in Lincoln, and Cousins didn't. He hesitated early in Evanston, but found his step and took advantage of some opportunities.

Cousins, Cunningham set more records. Cousins now is the career leader in touchdown passes and Cunningham moved up to third in touchdown catches, behind Charles Rogers and Kirk Gibson. Congrats to both. Cousins has most of the passing records, but I think a Rose Bowl berth would cement him as the greatest quarterback in school history.

Looking ahead. Spartan fans should be donning their Penn State gear, as a matchup with the Nittany Lions appears much more favorable than with the Badgers again. Nevertheless Wisconsin rolled, as everyone expected, bringing a Part 2 to what it becoming a rivalry between MSU and the Badgers (and is part of the #borderbattle between the states). Gholston will surely have a chip on his shoulder, as he missed the first meeting due to a suspension.

The Spartans have one game to P4RB. All the goals that were set at the beginning of the year come down to this one game. If the Spartans lose, they won't be going to a BCS game (which is unfair in my opinion, but nothing anyone can do about it). It's Rose Bowl or bust. It all comes down to one game.

Spartans will need quick start vs. Wildcats

A year ago, MSU fell behind 17-0 before rallying for a win in Evanston. This year, Northwestern has been jumping on teams in the first quarter.

Here is my story on why MSU must get off to a quick start today. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Notebook: Spartans prepared to give full effort at Northwestern

I don't think this will be put on the Oakland Press website before it's too late.


Special to The Oakland Press

EAST LANSING — The Michigan State football team may have already secured a spot in the Big Ten Football Championship Game, but they’re treating Saturday’s game against Northwestern just like any other game.

While it takes a little bit of pressure off of us in terms of this weekend in regards to the Championship Game, our focus remains on Northwestern and on finishing the task at hand, which is finishing this football season,” head coach Mark Dantonio said.

While the Spartans have secured the Legends division and received the trophy and apparel, there still is a chance they could share the title.

If MSU loses to Northwestern and Michigan defeats Ohio State, the rivals will be co-champs, although MSU still would head to Indianapolis.

That alone is enough motivation.

“That’s all everybody needed to hear,” wide receiver B.J. Cunningham said. “We’re not trying to share that at all. We’re trying to come out and get this win, so regardless if they win or lose we’ve got it outright and don’t have to worry about them.”

Quarterback Kirk Cousins didn’t quite feel the same, saying it was one of several reasons Saturday’s game is important.

“I (wouldn’t) consider them to be tied anyway, because we beat them,” he said. “There’s a lot of reasons to line up and play and that’s why we’re going to do that.”

But perhaps more important that not sharing the division title would be the momentum heading into the championship game. It happens a lot in the NFL: A team has wrapped up a playoff berth, so they sit guys late in the regular season, but that team is upset early in the playoffs.

Northwestern has won four straight games and earned bowl eligibility after struggling to start the season, including a loss to Army. The Spartans have won their last three and averaged 41 points per game in them, and Dantonio wants that momentum to continue into Indianapolis.

“Well, I don't really like the message that (resting) sends for our group of people in a 12-game schedule,” he said. “And I do think that you have to gain momentum. So if we go out there and don't play our best players and get shellacked and go into the next week with a negative mindset, I don't think that's good for our football team.”

--Pay raise coming

Dantonio announced Tuesday that his assistant coaches would be getting a “substantial amount of money” in the form of raises beginning in February. Dantonio said it would put the assistant coaches in the top three in the Big Ten.

This announcement comes a few weeks after Dantonio’s own contract was adjusted and he received a pay raise.

The raise may affect the future of defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, whose name is being thrown around as a possible head-coaching candidate somewhere.

“I'm not saying he's the next guy to become the head coach but he's done an outstanding job with our defense and is becoming nationally known. So do I expect people to come after him? Absolutely,” Dantonio said. “I would hope that we provide a good working environment here, and he's close to the players and all those type of things.

“But in the end, you have to make decisions that are going to be the best for your family and your career in the end.”

When asked about the pay raise Tuesday night, Narduzzi said he hadn’t heard about it. He also did not want to answer any questions about head coaching jobs.

--Little time for Thanksgiving

With the Big Ten having moved the final regular season game to after Thanksgiving beginning last year, it doesn’t allow players to spend as much time with their family.

The Spartans will finish practice around noon on Thursday before being let go. Many players from Michigan will head home, sometimes bringing teammates, while others may spend time with coaches.

The Ohio-native Cunningham said he would probably go to the home of former Detroit Country Day wide receiver Chris D. Rucker, while safety Trenton Robinson said he might take cornerbacks Johnny Adams and Darqueze Dennard home to Bay City.

The players must return to East Lansing by Friday morning before the team heads to Northwestern.

“It’ll be a short Thanksgiving at home, but we’ll try to get home for a little bit, watch some football,” Cousins said.

It's always exciting in Evanston

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Notes, video from Dantonio presser 11/22

--The big news from the day is that Dantonio said his assistants will be getting a pay raise in February, putting them top three in the Big Ten with "a substantial amount of money." That's a huge step for a program that has a coach in the middle of the pack and athletic director near the bottom in terms of pay. MSU doesn't have the revenue of programs that fit 100,000 into their stadiums, like Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State, so this is a big commitment.

--The money news might affect defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who is becoming a hot commodity for possible head coaching possibilites. Dantonio said the hope is that all of his assistants will have a chance to be a head coach — that's the sign of a strong program (see Izzo tree). Dantonio said Narduzzi is all-in and has a great relationship with MSU players right now, but as tough as it may be, it's important for coaches to make decisions that benefit their family. Dantonio used the analogy of when he left MSU in 2000 to be defensive coordinator at Ohio State.

--Speaking of that, Dantonio was asked about the goals of a national championship. As Dantonio put it: "I've been there before (with OSU in 2002). Once you've been there before, you want to return."

--As for this week's game against Northwestern, Dantonio says the Spartans will be going all out and that he won't plan on resting guys. Northwestern's tempo on offense forces MSU to use a lot of guys on defense anyway, so MSU can't afford to rest anyone.

--Darqueze Dennard is again listed as co-starter with Tony Lippett at cornerback. Dennard didn't play last week while dealing with an ankle injury. No changes on the depth chart.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sparty makes Capital One Bowl playoffs

While I'm sure Spartan fans don't want to see the Capital One Bowl again, MSU is in the hunt for a related event.

With a 9-3 record, Sparty is the No. 5 seed in the Capital One Bowl Mascot Challenge and will face off against Aubie from Auburn.

You can vote at and via text, by sending a message of "VOTE" to 78527 and replying to a confirmation message with the word "SPARTY."

The competition provides money to each school's mascot program.

A look inside the AP Poll: Week 13

It's looking like Rose Bowl or bust for the Spartans.

Following a 55-3 win over Indiana, the Spartans moved up one spot to No. 11 in the AP Poll. They're ranked No. 10 in the Coaches Poll, but USC is not eligible for the Coaches Poll, which is why MSU is one spot back in the AP.

As for individual voters, the Spartans have a wide range of positions, ranked as high as No. 5 and as low as No. 17.

Rob Long of Fox-1370 Radio in Baltimore is the voter with MSU at No. 5. The next highest Big Ten team on his ballot is Wisconsin at No. 13, so Long clearly thinks the Spartans are the class of the Big Ten. He has MSU ahead of undefeated Houston and one-loss Stanford. Long has four teams in extreme rankings (including MSU) and one near extreme rankings.

Anthony Gimino of the Tucson Citizen and Ira Schoffel of the Tallahassee Democrat both have the Spartans at No. 7.

As for the doubters, four voters have MSU ranked at No. 17. However, it is good to see that none of them have Michigan ahead of MSU and that the highest ranked Big Ten team on their ballots are at No. 16 or MSU. So while the voters aren't high on the Spartans, they aren't high on the Big Ten in general. I can understand that.

Since the SEC West has the top three ranked teams, it's easy for people to say that the SEC is the best conference in the country. But the conference is very top-heavy. While they have four of the top five defenses, they have eight offenses ranked in the bottom 40 in the country. Florida, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Mississippi State are terrible teams. The Big Ten doesn't have any elite teams, but I wouldn't be surprised if the conference had a solid showing come bowl season.

As for local voters, both John Niyo of The Detroit News and Jeremy Sampson of WLIX-TV have the Spartans at No. 9.

As always, thank you to Pollspeak.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Foreman sneaks onto stat sheet with three-yard run

As Chris Berman would say, Foreman was rumbling, bumbling and stumbling his way to a three-yard gain. Offensive linemen get overlooked all the time, but Foreman got his highlight. (Go to 1:27 in the BTN video)

Here is my story on Foreman's run, how it came about, and what the running backs thought of it.

Also, I love the screengrab in the video below. Explains everyone's reactions to it.

Video: Foreman talks about his third quarter run

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Big Ten Championship Game ticket info

Release from MSU:

Michigan State receives an allotment of 15,000 tickets for the Dec. 3 Big Ten Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind. Some 2,500 tickets have been allocated for the Spartan Marching Band and student season-ticket holders ($40 discounted student price). 

The $40 student tickets (limit 2) go on sale Sunday, Nov. 20 at 12 a.m. 

The remaining 12,500 tickets, priced at $80 and $175, will be allocated to season-ticket holders and Spartan Fund members. Seats will be assigned based upon Spartan Fund donor priority. Season-ticket holders and Spartan Fund members may order Big Ten Championship Game tickets online at (click “tickets” and then postseason applications). 

The deadline for filing online applications for Big Ten Championship Game tickets is 12 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 21. If still available, tickets would go on sale to the general public on Monday, Nov. 28.

Thoughts on MSU's win vs. Indiana

Division champs. Who saw that coming before the season, or after the Notre Dame game? While they're not perfect, the Spartans clearly have been the class of the Legends division and will represent on Dec. 3 in Indianapolis. MSU will be the home team, so the question now is: Will MSU wear the all-green jerseys or the white shoulders? As for the opponent, it will be the winner of Penn State-Wisconsin next week. MSU fans should root like crazy for the Nittany Lions

Seniors have some fun. Kirk Cousins threw touchdown passes to B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin and tried to find Keith Nichol in the end zone.Todd Anderson got his first career carry on a fake punt that was stuffed, and Joel Foreman has the most powerful three-yard run you'll see, taking a sweep handoff and demolishing a tackle attempt. Dantonio said Foreman got the game ball for it. I'll have a story on that tomorrow. Cousins and Foreman also saluted the Spartan logo at midfield as they got their curtain calls Breslin-style. Maybe a new tradition.

Looking forward, but not too far ahead. MSU still has a game in Evanston against a Northwestern team that has won four straight and is looking to guarantee themselves a bowl win. I expect MSU to rest some guys who are banged up, though the coaches won't admit it. A loss coupled with a Michigan win over Ohio State would make the rivals co-champions with Michigan receiving a trophy (see below). A loss also could shoot MSU down the bowl pecking order if a loss in the championship game followed.

All in all, a great (and historic) day for MSU fans who have a spotlight game to look forward too. While chances of a BCS at-large berth are slim to none, being in the Big Ten title game will put the national spotlight on the Spartans in the same respect.
 AD Mark Hollis holds the Legends trophy 

A close look at the trophy. (Photos via my iPhone)

Spartans to break new ground in Indianapolis

MSU will play in the inaugural Big Ten championship game in two weeks, so book your hotels and look for secondary-market tickets if you don't have them.

Here is my story on MSU's upcoming spotlight game with notes on some local players.

Video: Hollis, Dantonio celebrate division championship

Friday, November 18, 2011

From unheralded beginnings, Foreman leaves his legacy at MSU

Joel Foreman was just a two-star recruit coming out of Milford High School, but he will leave MSU as a four-year starter, a senior captain, three-time Academic All-Big Ten (possibly four) and one of the best offensive linemen in school history.

Here is my (long) story on Foreman's journey to MSU and the impact he will leave. Senior Day is Saturday at noon against Indiana on BTN.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

'Let those guys get out and win a national championship'

The MSU program has changed a lot since Trenton Robinson was forced to play eight games as a true freshman in 2008. Robinson has never been one to mince words, and now with his final game at Spartan Stadium coming up this Saturday, Robinson can look back on how the program has grown.

Only two true freshmen are playing this year, linebacker Taiwan Jones (mostly on special teams) and long-snapper Matt Giampapa.

"That's what's crazy. They can actually redshirt freshmen. Taiwan might be the only one in that class that didn't redshirt, and he' s a freak. They could have done it with more guys, but they didn't have to. That's always a good thing for a coach to let those guys really develop into their bodies. It's a great thing."

As for when the program took that next step, it seems to be when Greg Jones announced he would come back for his senior year to win a championship. That came after the fracas at Rather Hall that resulted in the "transfer" of several players and the loss in the Alamo Bowl that followed. The mindset in the program changed after that.

"We were just disappointed with that year (6-7 in 2009). We were supposed to come in and be (one of the top teams in the Big Ten) and I'm not sure if we let that go to our heads or what, but we were disappointed with it. We came back and we decided we're going to work harder than we ever worked. We had guys out here doing stuff, everybody was pushing everyone. 

"When Greg, he's a stand-up guy, says, 'I'm not going to go to the NFL because I want a Big Ten championship.' This man stayed back from millions of dollars, because he had a great year (in 2009), like No. 2 linebacker in the country. And he's like, 'I'm staying back to win a Big Ten championship. Money means nothing.' You have guys do that, and if you're not going to lay it all on the line every time you get on the field or workouts or something, you shouldn't be on this team. I felt like everybody worked hard."

Is that attitude still there?

"Yes. That is carrying on. Everybody lays it on the line every time. We've got guys who are out there so banged up stil banging. We want this so bad, it doesn't matter what's wrong with any of us. We're going to get it."

As for the future, the goals for this season are still in reach. After that? The sky's the limit.

"I just want us to continue to win and win a Rose Bowl, win a bowl game. Let's do something bigger than everything. Let's do something bigger than that. Let's win a Big Ten championship and then a Rose Bowl. Next year, let those guys get out and win a national championship. That's the type of stuff that I want to see."

The media will miss you, Trent.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Spartans look to finish unbeaten at home, again

Do you remember the last time MSU lost a home game?

It was Penn State in 2009, by a 42-14 score. Since then, there have been 13 straight wins at Spartan Stadium, three of which came against top-11 teams and two of which ended with some of the most exciting finishes in college football history.

Here is my story on MSU looking to go back-to-back seasons undefeated at home for the first time since 1955-56. Also, a note on punter Mike Sadler's success and injury updates.

For those curious, MSU's current home winning streak is fifth in the country behind Oregon (21), LSU/Nevada (16) and Wisconsin (15) and tied with Northern Illinois.

Spartan Stadium should be in the conversation of toughest places to play.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Notes, video from Dantonio presser 11/15

--Some injury news: DT Johnathan Strayhorn will miss the next two games and undergo arthroscopic surgery on his knee. CB Darqueze Dennard should be back this week after suffering an ankle injury at Iowa.

--Speaking of Dennard, he and Tony Lippett are listed as co-starters at field corner. While Dennard didn't play great before his injury, I still think it's because of the injury.

--Senior Day is this Saturday, and the Spartans will look to go 7-0 at home for the second straight year. Dantonio brought up the fact the seniors are 22-8 in Big Ten play, bested only by Ohio State's 24-6. Not bad.

--Speaking of the seniors, Dantonio said when they were recruited, they trusted the coaches. It was a trust that hadn't been earned. Most of the seniors were in Dantonio's first class in 2007 and redshirted the first year.

--Dantonio was asked again about assistant coaches salaries. He said the the administration would address it, and that it needed to be addressed. While Dantonio said he believes the coaches have fair salaries, he admitted "other programs" are elevating themselves with salaries and facilities and MSU can't fall far behind.

--Along those lines, Dantonio said the biggest factor in program success has been a lack of attrition, both from players and coaches. The Spartans really have had two quarterbacks in five years: Brian Hoyer and Kirk Cousins. Dantonio said MSU is playing one freshman outside of long-snapper Matt Giampapa, and compared that to Indiana (Saturday's opponent), which has played 29 freshmen this year,

--Not surprisingly, Dantonio was asked if he would root for Michigan this week, because if MSU and U-M win, the Spartans would win the Legends division. Dantonio's response? "Nope, sorry. I can't... We control our own destiny."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Thoughts on MSU's win at Iowa

MSU goes into Iowa City and wins, 37-21. MSU built a 31-7 halftime lead and although it appeared Iowa was ready to make a comeback, they never cut the deficit smaller than 13. Spartans still control their own destiny and if they beat Indiana at home next week and win at Northwestern the following week, they'll book a trip to Indianapolis as winners of the Legends division. It was MSU's first win at Iowa since 1989, when I was less than two months old.

--No more talk about not winning big road games. MSU now has won at every Big Ten stadium other than Wisconsin and Nebraska (EDIT: or Minnesota) in Dantonio's time. The Hawkeyes were 6-0 at home and James Vandenberg was undefeated as a starter at Kinnick. This game meant everything in terms of the Legends division. At Penn State last year and Ohio State and Iowa this year, MSU can win big road games. No they're not ranked teams, but they're good teams and they're important games. Look at anyone's record on the road against ranked teams and it's not good this side of Bama.

--Good for Kirk Cousins. Playing in front of his Iowan grandparents, Cousins got redemption after last season, and was awarded the game ball. He finished 18-for-31 for 260 yards and 3 TDs.and make several big-time throws. He also threw the ball away and didn't force anything, something he's had problems with. The winningest quarterback in school history now is part of the winningest class in school history, moving ahead of last year's senior class.

--Running game comes up big. Both Le'Veon Bell and Edwin Baker ran hard and with a purpose and it showed. Bell finished with 112 yards on 20 carries and Baker had 51 yards on 13 carries. But it all starts up front, and MSU's offensive line performed well. I'm sure many people thought they should have run a little bit more, especially holding on at the end.

--Defense holds on. Twenty-one points seems like a lot against this defense, but guys were banged up all over the place. Darqueze Dennard left the game with a leg injury and didn't return. William Gholston, Jerel Worthy and Johnathan Strayhorn all left and came back multiple times on the defensive line. Trenton Robinson went out with an injury, and Kurtis Drummond was hurt on the very next play. It was worse than the Nebraska game, but I'm sure the win makes it feel better.

--Playcalling was better than people will say. Since so much attention is being put on Roushar's playcalling, any bad call will be exaggerated and good calls will be ignored. I thought MSU's plan was solid and executed well. I thought MSU passed a little too much at the end, but you can't say they were predictable like Don Treadwell was. Playcalling also looks better when the offensive line blocks.

--Moving forward. As was said before, MSU is in the driver's seat for the Big Ten championship game, barring a derp of a performance. MSU showed good balance on offense and if they can continue to run the ball like that in the final two games, winning shouldn't be difficult. If MSU wins next week and Michigan beats Nebraska, MSU wins the division. So there's that.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Spartans honored for community service, academics

Amid all the Penn State stuff, it's nice to see some positive news in college sports.

Kirk Cousins has been nominated for the 2011 Wuerffel Trophy. Here is the release from the Big Ten:

Michigan State's Kirk Cousins and Ohio State's Ben Buchanan have been named finalists for the 2011 Wuerffel Trophy, presented to the college football player who best combines community service with athletic and academic achievement. The 2011 Wuerffel Trophy will be presented to the winner on Feb. 17. First presented in 2005, the Buckeyes' Joel Penton won the Wuerffel Trophy following the 2006 campaign.

Twenty-two Big Ten football players were named to the 2011 Academic All-District first teams, including Max Bullough, Cousins, Joel Foreman and Mike Sadler. Here is the release from the Big Ten:

Big Ten student-athletes continue to excel both on the field and in the classroom, as 22 conference standouts were named to the 2011 Capital One Academic All-District first teams. The conference's honorees are Indiana's Greg Heban and Adam Replogle, Iowa's Steve Bigach, Tyler Nielsen and James Vandenberg, Michigan's Will Heininger, Michigan State's Max Bullough, Kirk Cousins, Joel Foreman and Mike Sadler, Nebraska's Rex Burkhead, Austin Cassidy, Ben Cotton, Sean Fisher and Spencer Long, Northwestern's Doug Bartels, Jacob Schmidt, Patrick Ward and Kevin Watt, Penn State's John Urschel and Purdue's Joe Holland and Crosby Wright. To be eligible for the award, a player must be in at least his second year of athletic eligibility, be a first-team or key performer and carry a cumulative 3.30 grade point average. First-team selections will be added to the national ballot and are eligible for Academic All-America honors to be announced on December 8. Last season, the Big Ten tied for the lead among all Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) conferences with five student-athletes named to the Academic All-America first or second teams. The Big Ten has led all FBS conferences in Academic All-Americans for six straight seasons, with 48 football honorees over that time span. Nebraska's Cassidy is looking to earn first-team Academic All-America accolades for the second straight season, while Purdue's Holland was a second-team Academic All-American last season.

Spartans head to Iowa looking to end losing streak, take control of division

There will be more games other than Penn State/Nebraska going on this weekend, and it's a big one for MSU.

Win in Iowa City and the Spartans are in the driver's seat for the Legends division. But winning at Kinnick is a tall order. MSU has lost seven straight there and hasn't won since 1989. (For perspective, I was a few months old when that happened)

Here is my story on Saturday's matchup, along with notes on Edwin Baker's fumbling and injury updates.

Regarding Baker, this was an interesting quote from Dan Roushar: 

"He was very remorseful, not only for putting the ball on the ground, but the way he responded to it. I think it’s put things in perspective for him. Sometimes when you have success, it’s very difficult not to wonder what I get, rather than what the team gets. I think it’s put us all in check. All of a sudden, is winning the most important thing you’re doing? I think you have to ask yourself that as a member of that football team.”

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Injuries updates, notes from Gill, Roushar

--We know why the tight ends haven't been a big part of the offense now. Dion Sims has been dealing with a broken wrist, Brian Linthicum has been hurt and Garrett Celek suffered a concussion against Wisconsin, Dan Roushar revealed Wednesday.

--Ted Gill thinks Iowa woke up after the Minnesota loss in terms of offensive scheming and they're operating at a high level on offense.

--Roushar said the inability to run this year has been because the team isn't as physical as last season, speaking mostly about the offensive line.

--Roushar isn't worried as much about Cousins trying to force something as much as he's worried about him being tentative at Iowa.

--After a poor week of practice heading into the Minnesota game, Roushar said practices have been much better this week.

--Bennie Fowler is still dealing with the foot injury, but is making good plays in practice.

--Edwin Baker didn't respond well after his fumble Saturday, Roushar said. Roushar talked about putting individual play ahead of the team, so it sounds like there might have been an issue there. Remember, Baker set a goal of 2,000 yards for this season and he won't be getting there.

--There was a lot of love for the scout teams. Roushar said it is the best scout team defense he's seen at MSU. Some players who have stuck out on the scout teams have been Donovan Clark, Paul Lang, Lawrence Thomas (who is back practicing obviously) and Shilique Calhoun, who Roushar said will be as good a d-end as MSU has had. That's high praise.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Notes, video from Dantonio presser

--Biggest news is that everyone who missed the Minnesota game or were banged up will be ready for this week. That includes Larry Caper, Chris Norman, Steve Gardiner, Darqueze Dennard, Dion Sims and Travis Jackson.

--The play of former Lake Orion lineman Ethan Ruhland at center was big for several reasons, one being that MSU was close to burning the redshirt of Jack Allen. But Ruhland was able to step and and play well enough that it didn't happen.

--Dantonio said the reason his players are kept from the media is because he wants everyone focused on the task at hand, which is winning in Iowa City for the first time since 1989. He was asked if it was specific to Kirk Cousins, who grew up an Iowa fan and struggled mightily in the game last year, but said it was for the whole team. The media will be provided quotes later today.

--On Iowa, Dantonio said running back Marcus Coker reminds him of Jerome Bettis (btw, did you know Bettis was from Detroit??). The running style coupled with the same jersey design, I can see it. As Dantonio put it, Coker won't try to run around you, and his players need to "buckle up."

--There were no questions asked regarding the Penn State situation, which is getting deeper and deeper, as I'm sure you know.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A look inside the AP Poll: Week 11

People don't know what to make of the Spartans.

MSU comes in at No. 13 in the latest AP Poll, but they're No. 17 in the BCS standings. The BCS standings don't really matter at this point, but among AP Top 20 teams, MSU has the biggest difference between ranking and standing in the BCS. The computers are not fond of the Spartans.

The Spartans came out sluggish and survived a close game against Minnesota and, as a result, are ranked as high as No. 10 and as low as No. 21 among voters.

The highest votes come from Anthony Gimino of the Tucson Citizen and Greg Auman of the St. Pete Times.

The lowest vote came from Tom Murphy of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Murphy has MSU behind fellow Big Ten teams Wisconsin, Nebraska, Penn State and Michigan, two of whom MSU has beaten. Mike Hlas of the Cedar Rapids Gazette has the Spartans at No. 20, and he'll get to see them up close this week.

John Clay of the Lexington Herald-Leader had the Spartans at No. 10 a week ago, but dropped them to No. 12 on his ballot this week. He moved Clemson, Arkansas and Virginia Tech ahead of the Spartans, while moving Nebraska behind them. He also is one of two voters to have Iowa ranked, putting them at No. 23.

A win against Iowa will shrink the range of votes the Spartans are getting. A loss will throw them back in the pack of a lot of teams.

As for local voters, John Niyo of The Detroit News has MSU as No. 12 and Jeremy Sampson of WLIX-TV has the Spartans at No. 15.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Former Lake Orion lineman Ruhland makes first start

The Spartans started the third different center of the season when for Lake Orion lineman Ethan Ruhland made his first collegiate start in place of injured Travis Jackson.

Here is my story on Ruhland, along with notes on Bennie Fowler and Trenton Robinson, who made the same amount of catches on different sides of the ball.

And if you haven't heard, the MSU-Iowa showdown will be played at noon on ESPN2. I feel bad for the media who will miss much of the game coming from San Diego for the Carrier Classic. Michigan-Illinois got the 3:30 p.m. slot on ABC, while Nebraska-Penn State will be on ESPN at noon. I don't get it either.

Video: Players talk Minnesota win

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Thoughts on MSU's win vs. Minnesota

--Defense was uncharacteristically poor. MarQueis Gray's mobility was a bigger factor than any of the last three mobile QBs the Spartans faced. MSU didn't get great pressure, but Gray was about to get out of it when there was some.

Jerel Worthy had just two tackles, while William Gholston had 14. That's 29 in two games for Gholston. As Worthy said, that number of tackles for a lineman means he's either doing great at his job or trying to do other people's jobs. I think it's the former. I'm sure the line is excited to see a pocket passer next week at Iowa.

Darqueze Dennard was out with what sounded like some sort of concussion. Coaches said he could have played if it was an emergency. Tony Lippett played in his place. But it was Johnny Adams who was getting beat quite a bit. A rare off-day for him. The Spartans came into the game only giving up 127 passing yards per game, but Gray shredded them for 295. Iowa's James Vandenberg quietly has been very efficient this year and the secondary will have to play better.

--Kirk Cousins was solid. He had some bad decisions, but made quite a few NFL-type throws. He also showed a lot more emotion than we're used to, especially on his 15-yard penalty for spiking the ball after a false start penalty. He said earlier this week Nebraska turned their back on him and dared him to run, and he appeared to step up in the pocket more than usual Saturday. He finished with 296 yards passing and played better than he'll probably get credit for.

--Le'Veon Bell making his case as the No. 1 back. Edwin Baker fumbled on the opening play of a drive for the third time in four games. Suddenly he's having a hard time holding onto the ball. Bell finished with 96 yards on 15 carries and was solid again. If the O-Line isn't making holes, Bell does a good job of picked up three yards out of nothing. He's more elusive, while Baker tries to run over guys. The Spartans tried to get Baker back into the game in the second half, but I think you'll see Bell starting next week.

--Team battling through injuries. Travis Jackson and Larry Caper didn't play, both also with concussion-type injuries, and both also could have played, according to Dantonio. Chris Norman didn't play for the second straight week with a sprained shoulder. All should be good to go next week. Not sure if that was coachspeak or the coaches expected they wouldn't need them Saturday.

--Spartans control their own destiny. After Northwestern beat Nebraska in the battle for NU, the Spartans and Hawkeyes both control their own destiny now. A lot will be at stake next week.