Team chemistry is a huge part of Michigan Stateâ€™s success
Going into the fifth year of the Mark Dantonio regime, the Spartans are experiencing levels of success that the coaches, players and fans have envisioned since the beginning.
Michigan State accumulated its first Beg Ten championship of the Dantonio era in 2010, finishing 11-2 and, unfortunately, ending up with a bad taste in its mouth following a 49-7 Capital Bowl loss to Alabama.
It was a performance uncharacteristic of the teamâ€™s talent and abilities, especially when a handful of victories were achieved by handling adversity and coming out better because of it. As players have stated this spring, Alabama could have realistically contended for and won the national championship with their myriad of first-round NFL draft picks and their BCS experience.
â€œAfter watching the first round of the (NFL) draft, you can see how good Alabama is,â€ said MSU starting quarterback Kirk Cousins. â€œI think they had four guys go in the first round and probably could have had a couple more if guys left early, so we definitely played a good football team that day.â€
The game now seems to be in the teamâ€™s rearview, at least in the grand scheme of things. The coaches and players are focused on using last season as an example of what needs to be done every season, and it should also be served as a springboard for getting over that proverbial hump during bowl season. The team has the personnel to be as good or better than last season, especially with the amount of offensive upperclassmen returning.
â€œI think weâ€™re at a good point, I think weâ€™re at a good place,â€ Cousins said. â€œWe have a tremendous amount of depth â€“ we have guys who can play from the oneâ€™s, the twoâ€™s, the threeâ€™s. Iâ€™m excited about the guys weâ€™ve got, weâ€™ve got great people.â€
Speaking of having â€œgreat people,â€ it has become a characteristic of a Mark Dantonio-coached team. There have been some players who havenâ€™t panned out as people off the field, and they are no longer part of the building of the program. During a time in college athletics when many teams recruit exceptional athletes who may not be the best of people, or may not be committed to being actual student-athletes in every sense of the term, the Spartans are doing things differently and itâ€™s paying off in the long run.
â€œI think it goes back to coach Dantonio and our coaching staff recruiting good people because a lot of times you have a choice between a kid whoâ€™s a tremendous athlete but you have questions about who he is as a person,â€ Cousins said. â€œOr maybe you have a guy who as a person you want to have around, but athletically heâ€™s the same as the other guy.
â€œOur coaches â€“ I know for a fact â€“ have taken the right person for this program and itâ€™s starting to show in the way weâ€™re operating in the locker room and the classroom and the football field,â€ he said.
Having players who understand what needs to be done and then go out and do it is a nice sight to see, but it means even more when said players are the figureheads of a major university. These kids are in the spotlight and have a lot of pressure facing them. Itâ€™s no easy task to juggle all of their priorities and not get caught up in the hoopla of being big-time athletes.
And it all goes back to finding the right people, the ones who wonâ€™t rest on their laurels or make excuses as to why they canâ€™t be great. Having senior leadership compounded with smart coaches makes things a little bit easier.
â€œ(The bowl game) was a tough loss but it did help make us that much more hungry going forward in the offseason because itâ€™s tough when you have success; you start to rest on your success itâ€™s just human nature to do that,â€ Cousins said. â€œA game like Alabama really caused us to realize weâ€™re not among the nationâ€™s elite yet and we have a lot of work to do to do that.
â€œAt the same time, the success we had prior to the bowl game â€“ winning 11 games, having an 11-1 regular season record â€“ I think what that did was give us a level of excitement and great feeling going forward and making us more motivate to keep working because of the good things that can come.â€
And thatâ€™s what you want to hear out of the leader of your football team.