Spartan Football End of Year Report Part Two

Hondo S. Carpenter

There were warning signs that 2012 was not going to be the year that was anticipated. Why were they missed? Certainly the job that Mark Dantonio had done the previous five seasons had helped fuel the fan base and their craving to be relevant on the national stage. Considerably.

While MSU had put together back to back 11 win seasons, there were other things going on that certainly aided it.Â

Dantonio builds with relationships; not false or ones based on personal gain. It is part of his fabric. Dantonio has been able to land solid recruiting classes since the moment he arrived and those classes have brought with them talented young men.

The expectations voiced by Dantonio and AD Mark Hollis are consistently regurgitated as 1) Winning Big Ten titles and 2) Competing for National titles. After back to back 11 win campaigns, the Spartan Nation was ready to take the next step.

When asked in the preseason if the expectations on his team were too high since the fan base was talking about a Rose Bowl and possible national championship run, Dantonio said, “No. That is how we think and I am glad the fan base is thinking the same.” Although not his intention, to quote John Wayne, Mark Dantonio just ‘Threw kerosene on a burning fire.’

The lifeblood of any college football program is recruiting. Scouring the nation for the best high school football players who can help your program is more than just an art, it is a science. The less you “Miss,” the better you are.

Depending on whom you believe, in 2012 MSU was either fifth or sixth in the Big Ten on money spent for recruiting. It is my understanding they were sixth. YOU CAN READ ONE SOURCE HERE.  While other schools in the conference can look and see a kid they like and go after him, MSU has to weigh the cost of the recruiting process for each one. MSU was able to pull Fou Fonoti from California to Michigan because he had ties and connections to MSU.

The Spartans have dipped their foot in Texas just the same. Along with California, those are two very big states that regularly produce great talent. MSU doesn’t have the money to be players in those states, but they can. MSU has the base with former players and alumni who live in those areas to make the impact within the rules. They do not have the dollars.

One such school that regularly produces some of the most and best talent in the world is Mission Viejo High School. CLICK HERE TO SALIVATE. The most hard core fans will know the school not only for winning state championships in the major competitive California, but also for competing for national championships. They regularly produce not good, but great players that stack college football rosters all over the nation. THE ELITE ROSTERS.

The Johnson family who leads the program was critical in developing and coaching the ELITE 11 and were on the Kirk Cousins train early. They were in the ear of CMU head coach Dan Enos talking Kirk while Enos was still at MSU. It was Enos who wanted Kirk and delivered him to MSU. I had MSU coaches tell me and I know of at least one other media member that Kirk was more of a “Camp arm” and look what he turned into.Â

That isn’t a slam on the staff. Every single college football program has under or over-inflated a player. It simply shows what deep relationships can do for a school. MSU never jumps in the water to compete for players at that school. When MSU was great, California was important to the cause supplying players.

Bret Johnson, son of the head coach and a former MSU QB, loves Michigan State. He was the personal tutor to Kirk Cousins. It seemed like every time Cousins had a break he went to California to get tutelage from the Johnsons, mainly Bret who is the mentor/tutor to some of the game’s best QBs both in college and the NFL.

I know that the powers that be have reached out to MSU to encourage them to recruit their school aggressively. Most schools of that prowess don’t. Every day when it is within the rules, the nation’s best coaches practically live on the campus of Mission Viejo, but not MSU. Not because MSU doesn’t need great players, but because MSU can’t. They don’t have the budget to be there and start to build the relationships that are necessary.

Mark Dantonio has to weigh every flight, every expense, every car rental, and hotel room, and he has to be as prudent as possible.Â

Remember that he is asked to win Big Ten titles and compete for national titles. Unlike OSU and UM he doesn’t get the luxury of going after every player he wants. He has to get guys every year and he can’t waste money or as one person inside Spartan football put it, “Sometimes you can see those prizes (top recruits), but you have to ask if spending the money to go after them is worth the risk or not. It is a cost benefit analysis that we can’t always justify. If we spend a lot of money and don’t get a kid that really hurts us. Some people can take the risk, swing, and miss. If we swing, we better not miss.”

It doesn’t mean that if a kid falls in their lap or has the resources to come and camp in the summer at MSU they won’t go after him. They are already a step ahead if the kid has the money to come here on his own. It is easier to justify the expenditure because the chances of success are higher since the young man has already spent the money to tell MSU, “Look at me.”Â

The staff doesn’t have the resources to go to farther places and cultivate and build relationships that are necessary to get kids. Once you have a pipeline established where your former and current players can by notoriety alone and word of mouth help, it does become easier. MSU doesn’t have that.

The lazy would blame Mark Dantonio. The lazy. The realistic would say he is being prudent with the dollars he has. His prudence is keeping MSU in the hunt, but if MSU really wants him to win Big Ten titles and compete for national titles, the powers that be that are his bosses must open the purse strings.

How can you win a conference and be spending fifth or sixth best on recruiting, especially since you don’t have the top of mind name recognition that other schools do? MSU had back to back 11 win campaigns and still brought in impressive young men, but failed to capitalize nationally because they didn’t have the resources to go out and do it.

Fans go crazy when MSU gets in on a nationally lauded stud. Then they get mad when MSU doesn’t get them. If you want to swim in that pool, you have to get in. Dipping a toe doesn’t work. Credit this staff for what they have done with what they have, but 2012 was a prime example.

Coming off of those two seasons, MSU should have a much deeper depth than they do, from those recruiting cycles. Make no mistake; the Spartans got some very good players. Very good, but they don’t have a roster after those two seasons that reflects that success.

Let’s look at Texas. I know of a school that sent video of several players. One ended up with major SEC awards as a freshman CB and one who was a redshirt freshman last year listed on the two deep OL (T) for Boise when they came to East Lansing . Another WR from that school is on his way to Illinois. I could go on, but the point is Michigan State invited those kids to come here for camp because MSU doesn’t have the dollars to do so much of the early leg work with recruiting in Texas.Â

Who knows if MSU would have taken any of them. What we know is that school produces great talent and wants MSU in there. We also know that MSU had their tape early,but without camp visits, the Spartans got nowhere. There have been others and more, from other places. High school coaches love Dantonio, his reputation and the way he treats their players. Getting players to come to East Lansing to play for Dantonio does not take a major sales job. It does cost money to get in front of them.

Having to tell a school that you would love to recruit their kids, but can they come see us first, works when you are established, not when you are hunting. I love that MSU wants every kid to camp at MSU, but it is reality. They wouldn’t have picked up Devyn Salmon from this year’s class if that were the case. He was in Florida, how many kids have they missed further away because of dollars?

Again, I understand that the staff has to work within the parameters of what they are given. I also understand that it is the University that has to look in the mirror and ask if they are enabling their program to win Big Ten titles and compete for national titles. Remember that those goals are set by the school, and then those expectations are embraced by the fans.

In Texas there is a saying about folks who are “All hat and no cattle.” This is simply talking about the people that talk it, but don’t live it. It is great to tell alumni and fans that you want to compete for national titles and win Big Ten titles. It is another to enable the coach with the dollars to do that.

If you want to compete, then recruiting budgets may not be sexy, but they are critical. Saying that you want something and doing the ugly behind the scene things that aren’t sexy are two different things. Bobby Knight said it best, “It is not the will to win that brings success, it is the willingness to prepare to win that brings it.”     

Recruiting budgets do not fire up the fan base. I love the new scoreboard editions at MSU. I support those 100% and I think they have a major impact. I was killed with emails and Twitter requests every day for updates and pictures last summer. Every time a new bolt was added the fans from around the world wanted to see it. It was amazing.

Adding dollars to the recruiting budgets don’t produce those same immediate levels of excitement. In the long run, they do produce a deeper talent pool. A deeper talent pool allows you to improve your program. MSU will almost always take the top ten kids they take every year. A wider pool may make a difference in the bottom half of the class. As with anything you improve from the base.

Let me give you this analysis on the recruiting budget. Dantonio and staff every year bring in a top level of talent. MSU not only gets good players, but also plenty of high character young men and good students.Â

The purpose of this is to not say, “Gee MSU is cheap and the players we get stink.” That wouldn’t be true. I am saying that MSU gets good players. Many of them regardless of budget size would be here. Whether MSU spends the money to compete for better players in CA or TX doesn’t mean that Jon Reschke, the #1 player in the past class, wouldn’t be here because he would. What it means is that rather than taking some developmental guys you can compete for more Jon Reschkes that aren’t so close, as in distance to the campus.

Maybe rather than taking some offensive lineman that you think can really develop and grow into something, you can get the kid who is farther along the process. The more players you can add from a bigger pool, the better your team and overall depth. You still take the same number of players, but the pool of choice is much deeper.

MSU has taken risks on good players who come from smaller programs or programs with poorer coaching and got burned. I also know they have had success when they have done it. All schools do, but with more a competitive budget they would have a bigger pool to pick from. The more choices, the less risk your program takes.

I love a Big Mac. I know, no shocker, but if you have ever eaten at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse you will know this. Both serve beef. Both of them get that beef from a good cow. They just don’t taste the same.

MSU failed to capitalize nationally on back to back 11 win seasons like they could have with a deeper budget for getting players.  Every close player in proximity to the state of Michigan, the Spartans have to beat OSU, UM, and Notre Dame for. Add to that, they have lost several to Northwestern who were drawn for football, but also awesome academics. MSU lives in a deep area of college football.Â

UM, OSU, and Notre Dame alone nationally elicit instant respect. With those three in your backyard, MSU has to enlarge their circumference of influence especially as the population of the Midwest dwindles.

This staff has proven they can spot talent and develop it. This past year, MSU having a lack of talent (the staff’s evaluation evidently based on playing time) hurt them and helped push LeVeon Bell early to the NFL. The moment he touched the ball 50 times (44 rushes 6 pass reception) the clock began to tick on the remaining time in Bell’s career in East Lansing.

His body could only take so many hits. RB’s only have a certain amount in the tank. Kirk Cousins recently acknowledged that to me. I asked him about LeVeon’s decision to leave MSU early for the pros. Cousins supported Bell and he said, “As a running back you only have so many hits in your body. What more could he do to suddenly elevate his draft stock. I think he was wise.”

You don’t think LeVeon Bell 2.0 from California or Texas playing at the level LeVeon did as a freshman could have helped this year? It would have meant significantly less reps and bruises for the young man who took a look at his body and the work he did at MSU and knew he had to do the LeVeon leap to the NFL.

You can develop a player if he has the talent. If your area of recruitment is so small that there are no LeVeon Bells to find, you are in trouble.  Remember that the staff saw a diamond in Bell, but first there had to be a Bell to spot.Â

Coming off back to back 11 win seasons there should have been a RB who could have stepped up and played last year. Either as a red shirt freshman, a true sophomore, or true freshman, there should have been someone. There was not based on production.

Because MSU didn’t have the resources to go out and find a deeper pool of players to capitalize off of back to back 11 win seasons cost them this season; not just at RB, but other places. If you want MSU to compete for national titles and win Big Ten Championships then you have to put them in a spot to compete.Â

Don’t ask someone to win the Indy 500 with a Chevy Tahoe. It is a great truck, but it can’t compete with an Indy Car. MSU has a great truck. They are much better than a Big Mac, but they aren’t Ruth’s Chris or an Indy Car, and when MSU continues to say that is the goal, then they have to do the behind the scene things that make it possible.

Coach Ken Mannie is the best in the business. He constantly reminds the Spartan football team that it is on the invisible mornings that the fans don’t see where championships are won. It is the things rarely seen. Recruiting budgets don’t get 10,000 donors in a room to say wow. What they do is bring the depth of players that it takes to have those moments.Â

You can’t sustain winning at a high level without players. How many national titles did Saban win at Toledo or MSU? We know what Saban did when schools like LSU and Alabama who WERE not spending on recruiting like they chose to do to hire the NICKtator. Yes he came in and won, but he won with schools who committed to recruiting and one other key issue we will discuss on Monday.

Mark Dantonio can spot and identify talent. If it is not there or needs more work, it makes an already difficult job harder. This was a major reason the Spartans had a season of disappointment. When the chips were down, there were key areas that they didn’t have guys to plug in. After back to back 11 win seasons they should have.

There is talent on the roster that is developing, but not as far as long in some key spots that were needed last season. That cost them wins.

On Monday our attention turns to recruiting numbers and staff dollars. I will tell you how MSU lost AT LEAST one game because of staff dollars. I assure you that I will explain by pointing out exact proof and the specific game that it hurt them.Â

We’ll also point out that with each school in the NCAA only being allowed the same amount of players, why do the winners always get more on signing day? Players jumping early to the NFL is NOT the biggest reason.

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