EAST LANSING, Mich. — For a university that is primarily known for its postseason success in basketball when it comes to athletics, the Michigan State football program has began to make a name for itself since Mark Dantonio became the head coach seven years ago.
With a 14-0 victory over the Purdue Boilermakers (1-6, 0-3) today, the Michigan State Spartans (6-1, 3-0) have become bowl eligible for a school-record seventh consecutive season.
Due to recent regular-season and postseason success, high expectations have consumed Dantonio and the MSU football program, and a guaranteed bowl game is something that is still meaningful even though it’s become the norm over the years.
“We’ve built that foundation, but it’s still a big deal,” Dantonio said.
The Spartans didn’t clinch their bowl birth until late in the 2012 season, and with an opportunity to do so with just seven games under their belt this year, Dantonio expressed to his team how important getting that goal out of the way as early as possible would be before his team even stepped foot on the field.
“Last year our sixth win was against Minnesota, it went down to the last game in 12-degree weather,” Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun said. “We didn’t want that to happen this year. We wanted to be able to win early, win big… keep moving forward.
“As you keep winning the bowls get better and better, so I mean when we got to the locker room – it’s been a main focus all year – but when we got to the locker room he (Dantonio) definitely initiated that and let us know ‘Hey, listen. We’re playing for a bowl game today, don’t let this slip through your hands and play every play like it’s your last.’”
Now, with one goal scratched off their list and an undefeated record in the Big Ten, the Spartans have their focus on making it to the conference championship game, and then, hopefully, a game they haven’t been to since 1988.
“We are 6-1,” Dantonio said. “We’re bowl eligible, and that was the goal going into this game. It took us to the last game last year because of the close losses that we had… so now we start climbing the ladder. Opportunity to go and play at Illinois next week and to further that. 3-0 in Big Ten conference, so that’s our main focus, to get to the championship game.”