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Big Ten Team Previews: Michigan State

BY JACOB SHEYKO | AUGUST 27, 2014 5:00 AM

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For the past decade, the Big Ten has been dominated by Ohio State, Michigan, and, to a lesser extent, Wisconsin. But the tides of dominance may be in for a change.

With Michigan State winning the Big Ten championship last season — and in prime position to do so again this year — a new era may be on the horizon for the Big Ten, one that features an abundance of Spartan Green.

“I think the Big Ten, you’ve always got attention coming your way,” head coach Mark Dantonio said at Big Ten media days. “And it’s what you do with that and how you handle that. So what we’ve tried to talk about, really, is how do we handle success now.”

Michigan State’s handling of that newfound attention has been fairly low-key. Aside from Dantonio stating his belief that Michigan State would have won the national championship had the new playoff format been in place last season, most of the Spartans off-season has been spent under the radar.

Consider: Until a recent season-ending injury to Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, many people had not picked the Spartans to repeat as Big Ten champions.

But for a team that wasn’t ranked until midway through last season, going under the radar is nothing new.

“I don’t really read articles; I don’t care what people say, and I feel like last season we got no respect, and we still continue to win each and every week,” quarterback Connor Cook said. “We could win the Rose Bowl, we could win a Big Ten championship, we could win a national championship and I feel like we don’t get the respect that we deserve. It’s out of my control.”

One thing — other than Big Ten champions — the Spartans will hope to repeat is the performance on the defensive side of the ball.

Without a doubt, Michigan State had the most feared defense in the conference last season — and to some, maybe the country. The Spartans led the Big Ten in rushing and passing yards allowed per game.

In total, they allowed just 252.2 yards per game, more than 50 yards better than the next best defense.

Their defense was so good that defensive end Shilique Calhoun led the team in touchdowns after Week 3.

“I’m going to try,” Calhoun jokingly said on whether it would happen again. “I think it will be harder this year than last year, but if a couple of guys get a pick, I might ask them to toss it back to let me get the touchdown.”

If there is anything Dantonio shouldn’t worry about, it’s his team building an ego after last season. Cook noted that this was the hardest off-season he’s had while in East Lansing and that coaches were as demanding as ever.

“You just have to be on, you have to demand stuff from them and hold them accountable,” Cook said. “I think the coaches do a great job of holding us accountable and keeping us grounded, and keeping us motivated.”

Since 2010, no one in the Big Ten has won more games than Michigan State — which is lost on most of the league’s pundits. And Dantonio wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We’re not looking for any entitlement, anybody to put us up there,” he said. “We’ll get what we earned. Every game will be a challenge, beginning with our first game. Everything that we do will start fresh and have to be earned.”


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