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Michigan State trying to build on its success under Dantonio

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Associated Press
August 16, 2011
— Kirk Cousins was in California during spring break earlier this year, so he and his father decided to check out the Rose Bowl.

They were stopped by a security guard, who wouldn’t let them in.


“We tried to beg. I tried to play the card that I play in the Big Ten. I’m a quarterback at Michigan State. He didn’t budge,” Cousins said.


“I hope on January 2nd I’m on the bus that’s riding into the stadium, and I hope that he’s the security guard there, and I can wave at him through the window.


“But we’ve got a whole lot of work to do between now and then.”


Cousins and his teammates came close to a Pasadena trip last season. Michigan State gained its first Big Ten title since 1990, but the Spartans wound up sharing the championship with Wisconsin and had to settle for a berth in the Capital One Bowl. They then lost to Alabama, 49-7, finishing an 11-2 season on a sour note.


There are plenty of familiar faces returning. Cousins is back for his third season as the starting quarterback, and wide receivers Keshawn Martin and B.J. Cunningham remain in the fold as well.


Edwin Baker and Le’Veon Bell also return after combining for nearly 1,900 yards rushing last season.


“We’ve won a co-championship. We’ve gone to bowl games. But, with that being said, we wish we would have done more,” said Mark Dantonio, who is entering his fifth season as Michigan State’s coach. “So I think we’re always trying to push the envelope here.


“We’re not going to sit back and say we’re there yet—we’ve done this, we’ve done that. We’re not going to sit here and make allusions to that.”


The Spartans will be tested early when they play at Notre Dame on Sept. 17. Michigan State beat the Irish, 34-31, last year on a fake field goal in overtime, and Dantonio had a mild heart attack afterward.


Dantonio eventually returned, and the Spartans started 8-0 before being blown out at Iowa. That was their only loss of the regular season.


The expanded Big Ten now features a conference championship game, meaning no more tying for the title.


Michigan State’s road to another championship will be filled with challenges. In October alone, Michigan State plays at Ohio State, hosts Michigan and Wisconsin, then travels to play Nebraska.


“The phrase is exactly the phrase we used as we started to snowball last year and have some success, and that’s ‘humble and hungry,’ ” Cousins said. “We have to operate with humility.”


The Spartans will try to manage their schedule while replacing three starters in the offensive line and standout linebackers Greg Jones and Eric Gordon from last year’s team.


“We need to get ready to play away this year, go to some tough places to play,” Dantonio said. “I’m not trying to dis our players or downgrade where we’re at.


“I think we’ve come a ways. But I think you have to look forward, and you have to understand, as I said earlier—I guess at the Big Ten meetings—there is another mountain to climb.”


After losing Jones and Gordon, Michigan State will look to defensive tackle Jerel Worthy to boost the defense. Worthy had 8.5 sacks in his first two seasons at Michigan State.


“We want to go from good to great,” Worthy said. “We want to get to that 12 mark. We want to get to that 13 mark. The best way we can do it is just keep working hard.”


Dantonio already has accomplished a lot in four years at Michigan State, going to a bowl each season and winning his last three games against rival Michigan. The next step is to build on that success in a new-look conference.


Michigan State hasn’t been to the Rose Bowl since 1988. The Spartans’ last two Big Ten titles were co-championships. As impressive as last season was, there’s still some unfinished business.


“Hopefully we carry ourselves correctly and we handle ourselves confidently, and we get ready to play,” Dantonio said. “I think that they have to be confident. They have to understand what the expectations are of them and how they go about their responsibility.


“Really, the price of greatness is responsibility, as Churchill said, and I believe that. The price of greatness is responsibility. The greater you are, the more responsibility you have.”



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