EAST LANSING – Mark Dantonio stood at the podium Monday in the Izzo Family Media Center, coming off his 34th win in 37 games, in command of an unbeaten and sixth-ranked Michigan State team, looking at a November of football that looks more and more promising.
And he sounded like it.
“Yeah, I sort of feel like there’s a good buzz in our team,” Dantonio said. “There’s a good mixture of older players and young players, so there’s the newness of players who haven’t played before that are starting to play a little bit, and they bring a little bit of a different excitement.
“There’s the older players going into their last month of football, and our seniors saying, ‘OK, I’ve got four more games to play, and the chips on the table have gotten quite large now. What am I going to be able to do to finish the job?’ So there’s an excitement to that, as well. I feel good about our football team.”
Positivity like that hasn’t been abundant around the Spartans (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten) this season, and that probably has a lot to do with a distinguishing characteristic of Saturday’s 52-26 win over Indiana other than the lopsided final score – the Spartans left the field with no worries about any new injuries.
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This week should help heal some old ones, as Dantonio goes practice-free in an off week for the first time in his career. Players will lift, coaches will recruit and get started on Nebraska film, and it’s possible All-America center Jack Allen (ankle), starting cornerback Darian Hicks (concussion) and starting running back Madre London (leg) will be back for MSU’s Nov. 7 trip to play the Cornhuskers (3-5, 1-3).
If the Spartans can survive that game to make it 13 straight wins overall, they’ll be in position to enter the Nov. 21 game at No. 1 Ohio State with a 10-0 record. A home game with Maryland sits between Nebraska and Ohio State, and a home game with Penn State finishes the regular season.
“I feel like we’re right where we need to be,” said MSU senior quarterback Connor Cook, who has been playing the best ball of his career lately.
“I think right now we’re trending up,” said Dantonio of the Spartans, whose 12-game winning streak is tied with Duffy Daugherty’s 1955-56 teams for the third-longest in school history.
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The first College Football Playoff rankings will be out Nov. 3, before MSU plays again, but the ones that matter will come out after the Spartans determine their playoff viability at Ohio State.
Though the Buckeyes seem to have things rolling after their own early struggles, thanks in part to new starting quarterback J.T. Barrett – he shared Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors Monday with Cook – the Spartans are building some momentum.
MSU’s maligned kicking game had its best outing of the season against the Hoosiers, and its defense was nearly perfect after giving up a touchdown on the first possession of the second half.
The passing game is on fire, from Cook to Aaron Burbridge to R.J. Shelton to Macgarrett Kings Jr. to Josiah Price.
“We’re 100% confident right now,” Kings said. “There’s no doubt in my mind the Spartan Dawgs will never be like under 100% confident. We’re gonna prepare well this week, get healthy, and get ready for the next game.”
The Spartans want to run the ball better, and there’s still progress to make defensively. But the prospect of increasing health and the decreasing worries about “style points” seem to have erased some of the early-season strain.
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There’s more talk now of the Spartans’ ability to make clutch plays late in games than their inability to blow out everyone they play. And as senior defensive end Lawrence Thomas said after Saturday’s win: “There’s nothing like being undefeated.”
“There’s a good feeling among our football team,” Dantonio said. “There’s a positive attitude, and I’m sure next week when we come back and we start practicing, there’s going to be a new conviction … a buzz, because we’ve been off and we’re looking forward. We don’t have to look behind right now, because there’s nothing back there that we have to regret.”