Mark Dantonio likes his chances of upsetting No. 2 Michigan
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) Mark Dantonio closed the door of his spacious office and took a seat.
''That's my go-to chair,'' he said, gesturing to another piece of brown, leather furniture.
It might be a good week for him to switch things up at Michigan State.
The Spartans (2-5, 0-4 Big Ten) have lost five straight games for the first time since 1991. No. 2 Michigan (7-0, 4-0) is up next and the rival is favored to win by more than three touchdowns Saturday at Spartan Stadium.
Dantonio, though, is used to being doubted.
No one thought he, or any coach, could turn a mediocre program into one of the best in college football as he did in recent years despite the nearby presence of traditional powers: Michigan, Ohio State and Notre Dame.
Few, if anyone, predicted Michigan State could ever dominate the Wolverines as it has under Dantonio with three straight wins and seven in an eight-year stretch for the first time.
And when Michigan was punting with 10 seconds left last season and a two-point lead at the Big House, the usually stoic coach was confident his players would find a way to win. They did, swarming around punter Blake O'Neill after he bobbled a slightly low snap and returning the football 38 yards for a game-ending, game-winning play for the ages.
A huge picture of Jalen Watts-Jackson's return hangs outside Dantonio's office, just to the right of his door in a can't-miss spot for any visitor.
What jumps out to Dantonio when he sees the picture or thinks about the improbable play?
''I guess you always have a chance,'' Dantonio said in an interview with The Associated Press. ''I would say the chance of that happening relative to the chance of us winning on Saturday, I would say we got a better chance of us winning on Saturday.''
If Dantonio can help his team extend its streak in the series, it would be the biggest upset in the rivalry since unranked Michigan State stunned the top-ranked Wolverines 28-27 in 1990. Back then, Michigan went for the win on a 2-point conversion with 6 seconds left and Desmond Howard couldn't control the football as he hit the turf after he appeared to get tripped by Eddie Brown.
In the same corner of the same end zone 15 years later, Watts-Jackson lay with a broken hip after scoring a touchdown that validated the feeling Dantonio insisted he felt just before it happened.
''When I looked out there, I saw confident faces when I went out there,'' he said.
These days, Dantonio and his players acknowledge confidence is lacking after following up a 36-win, three-year stretch with as many losses as they had from 2013 through 2015.
What does Dantonio see when he looks at his players' faces this week?
''They've got to answer that on Saturday,'' he said quietly.
Dantonio often has to answer Jim Harbaugh-related questions, but insisted Michigan's coach does not consume his thoughts or provide an obstacle he can't overcome in recruiting.
''I'm consumed by too many things. I can't control that,'' Dantonio said. ''What I can control, to some extent, is what is going on here. I think he's a great coach.''
The feeling is mutual.
''He's done a great job,'' Harbaugh said. ''One of the best college football coaching jobs in the history of the game.''
That's not a stretch.
After Michigan State was a national power in the mid-1960s under Duffy Daugherty, the Spartans went to only one Rose Bowl and won eight games or more in consecutive seasons just once before Dantonio was hired to replace the fired John L. Smith for the 2007 season.
Dantonio took the program back to the Rose Bowl three years ago - for the first time since the 1987 season - won a school-record 13 games two years ago and became the first Big Ten coach to have at least 11 victories five times in a six-year span. He won 12 games and a school-record third Big Ten title last year.
''Coach Dantonio is one of the greatest coaches in the country and has proven that over the last nine years,'' athletic director Mark Hollis said this week.
Dantonio's accomplishments and support he's getting, however, are not helping him rest easy. His offense is sputtering with a freshman quarterback behind a banged-up offensive line. His injury-depleted defense is looking overmatched, which is unusual. His mind races, trying to process problems and come up with solutions, day and night and he can't stop it even when his head hits the pillow.
''It doesn't get turned off. That's a problem,'' Dantonio said. ''I've always slept really good. Lately, not so good. I talk to my wife and we talk about things. We make sure I laugh. We pray. I don't read too much right now. I should say I should probably read to get my mind off things.''
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