What Was The Score Of The Marshall Football Game College Football – Evaluating Three First-Year Coaches – Saban, Erickson and Dantonio – Part 2

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College Football – Evaluating Three First-Year Coaches – Saban, Erickson and Dantonio – Part 2

When Mark Dantonio took over as the head coach at Michigan State University this year, he was really low-profile and far less well-known than Dennis Erickson and Nick Saban outside the college football fraternity.

Dantonio made his biggest impact as an assistant coach at Ohio State, not as a head coach in Cincinnati. Not that he did badly in Cincinnati. He became just the second head coach in Cincinnati history to take the Bearcats to a bowl game in his first season in 2004, outscoring Marshall 32-14 in the Fort Worth Bowl to cap a 7-5 season.

His 2006 Cincinnati Bearcats played the second-toughest schedule in the nation and went 7-5 overall with four losses to ranked teams, including an upset win over then-No. 7 Rutgers, marking the highest-ranked opponent ever defeated in Bearcat history. While serving as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator, he helped the Buckeyes to a 32-6 record in three seasons, and Ohio State went 14-0 and won the national championship in 2002. His national championship defense was No. 2 nationally in point defense.

In the 2003 season, his defense ranked No. 1 nationally in Rushing Defense and No. 9 in Total Defense, leading the Buckeyes to an 11-2 record and a No. 4 national ranking. Six Buckeye defensive players were named first-team All-Big 10 during Dantoni’s three-year tenure, and 13 were committed to the NFL, including two first-round picks.

Prior to becoming the head coach at Michigan State, he spent 6 years with the Spartans as an assistant coach and assistant coach. He was instrumental in Michigan State’s successful 1999 season when the Spartans went 10-2, won the Florida Citrus Bowl and were ranked No. 7 in the final polls.

Dantoni’s first season at Michigan State was the school’s most successful since 2003. His Spartans went 7-5, losing all 5 games by 7 points or less, and earned their first bowl game in four years. The Spartans will play the Boston College Eagles in the Champs Sports Bowl on December 28th. Coincidentally, Michigan State defeated Boston College for the 2007 College Hockey National Championship. Dantonio, known for his defensive prowess, won 7 games this year despite a legacy of players averaging in all the major defensive categories: scoring defense, total defense, defense in the rush, pass defense and pass efficiency defense.

His offense was good in scoring offense (24th nationally), rushing offense (22nd nationally) and passing offense (23rd nationally), while his total offense and passing offense were average.

The former South Carolina defensive back inherited a bowl-eligible team that went 5-7, 5-6 and 4-8 the last three years. Going 7-5 and earning a bowl game in his first season was an accomplishment, especially since Dantonio didn’t pick and choose the talent level of his players, and trust me when I say they had some goals on defense. Michigan State lost by touchdowns to #1 Ohio State and Iowa on the road, lost by a field goal to Wisconsin on the road, lost by a touchdown to Northwestern in overtime at home and lost by 4 points to Michigan at home. In 4 of those losses, the Spartans gave up 48, 37, 34 and 28 points; it’s simply giving up too many points to expect to win.

Dantoni’s first recruiting class is currently ranked 55th by Scout.com with no Top 100 recruits, no 5-stars and one 4-star. This is not a good sign. Notre Dame has the best recruiting class in the country with seven top 100 players, four 5-stars and thirteen four-stars. Ouch!

Ohio State, another big Midwest recruiting contender, has nine top-100 players, four 5-stars and eight 4-stars. The Spartans will have to tighten their helmet belts a little harder and dig deeper to deal with this kind of opposition.

Let’s hope Mark Dantonio and his players understand that motivation is an inside job. Coaches pick the talent and convince the talent to come to their program, but the players ultimately make their talent pay off. You can’t win without talent, but the talent has to not only show up, but play on game day or you’re going to lose anyway.

Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a 3-part series. Part 3 evaluates Nick Saban’s performance at Alabama.

Copyright © 2007 Ed Bagley

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