EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio’s scarlet and gray ties run deep.
Dantonio is from Zanesville, Ohio, and helped Ohio State win a national championship as defensive coordinator in 2002. The teams meet Saturday in East Lansing.
”The way the standings look right now this game is extremely important,” Dantonio said. ”You’ll win the tiebreakers as well, whoever wins this game. So that’s what makes it even more important. I think it’s more of a conference thing rather than a personal (question of), can we beat Ohio State?”
The No. 7 Spartans (7-1, 4-0 Big Ten) are eighth in the College Football Playoff rankings coming off an off week and have a chance to move up against the No. 13 Buckeyes (7-1, 4-0, No. 14 CFP). The loser will be eliminated from national championship contention.
Despite the grand implications, this is still a personal game for Dantonio and 27 Spartans players from Ohio. Dantonio served as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator under Jim Tressel from 2001-03 and held his first assistant coaching job at Youngstown State in 1986-1990.
Dantonio can also thank Ohio State for some of his recent success in a roundabout way. Michigan State has aggressively recruited in Ohio under Dantonio, and some of the most important players on this team were overlooked by the Buckeyes coming out of high school. Starting safety Kurtis Drummond said he wasn’t recruited by Ohio State at all during his prep career at Masury Hubbard.
”I’m definitely excited to play this week,” Drummond said. ”Growing up you definitely have a lot of people around you who watch the Buckeyes, and when you don’t have a chance to go there it sits with you a little bit. But coming here to coach Dantonio and his staff was the best thing that could have happened to me.”
Michigan State will likely start five players from Ohio on defense Saturday, including standout defensive end Marcus Rush, cornerback Darian Hicks and defensive tackle Joel Heath.
”I do think that makes it personal,” Dantonio said. ”You grow up in the state and you listen, you hear, you go home, you listen, you hear, and you know a lot of people that sit on that side of the fence. I think it’s just natural you want to measure up. You don’t want to measure up to Ohio State, you want to measure up to the people at home.”
Starting quarterback Connor Cook, an Ohio native, earned MVP honors during the Spartans’ 34-24 victory over Ohio State last season in the Big Ten championship game. Prior to that game, Cook said he never even received a recruiting letter from the Buckeyes due in part to the fact that Braxton Miller was already committed in the 2011 class.
Starting middle linebacker Taiwan Jones grew up in Michigan, but said he understands what’s at stake for some of his teammates this week.
”We treat it as a rivalry game because we have a lot of guys on our team who are from Ohio who take this personally,” Jones said. ”Some (of my teammates), before the game they get up and want to talk to us. They say Ohio State said they weren’t good enough, Ohio State never recruited them, and there’s a lot of guys that want to prove themselves.”