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.

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