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

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

Dantonio had made his biggest impression as an assistant coach at Ohio State rather than as a head coach at Cincinnati. Not that he did badly in Cincinnati. He became just the second head coach in Cincinnati history to take the Bearcats to a bowling game in his freshman season in 2004, beating Marshall 32-14 at 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 and also an upset victory over the then-ranked No. 7 Rutgers, scoring the opponent the highest ranked ever defeated in Bearcat history. While serving as defensive coordinator at Ohio State, he helped the Buckeyes go 32-6 in three seasons, and Ohio State went 14-0 and won the championship national in 2002. His national championship defense was 2nd nationally in Scoring Defense.

During the 2003 season, his defense ranked first nationally in Rushing Defense and 9th in Total Defense, leading the Buckeyes to an 11-2 record and a No. 4 national ranking. of Buckeye were named first-team All-Big 10 during Dantonio’s 3-year tenure and 13 were drafted to the NFL, including two first-round picks.

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

Dantonio’s freshman season at Michigan State was the school’s most successful since 2003. His Spartans went 7-5, losing all 5 games by 7 runs or less and becoming bowl eligible for the first time in four years. The Spartans will face the Boston College Eagles at the Champs Sports Bowl on December 28. Coincidentally, Michigan State beat Boston College for the College Hockey National Championship in 2007. Dantonio, known for his defensive prowess, won 7 games this year despite his legacy. Players Scoring Average in all major defensive categories: Scoring Defense, Total Defense, Rush Defense, Passing Defense and Passing Efficiency Defense.

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

The former South Carolina defensive back inherited a team that was not bowling eligible and went 5-7, 5-6 and 4-8 over the past three years. Going 7-5 and winning a bowling game in his first season was a feat, especially since Dantonio didn’t choose the skill level of his players, and believe me when I say they have had slugs in defense. Michigan State lost by touchdown to No. 1-ranked Ohio State and Iowa in away games, lost by field goal to Wisconsin away , 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 hope to win.

Dantonio’s first recruiting class currently ranks 55th according to Scout.com with no Top 100 recruits, no 5-star players and one 4-star player. It’s not a good sign. Notre Dame has the best recruiting class in the country with seven Top 100 players, four 5-star players and thirteen 4-star players. Ouch!

Ohio State, another big contender for recruiting in the Midwest, has nine Top 100 players, four 5-star players and eight 4-star players. The Spartans are going to have to tighten their helmet strap a little tighter and dig deeper to fight off that kind of opposition.

Let’s hope Mark Dantonio and his players understand that motivation is an inside job. The coaches select the talent and convince them to participate in their program, but the players end up charging for their talent. You can’t win big without talent, but talent has to not only show up, but play on game day or you lose anyway.

Editor’s note: This is part 2 of a 3 part series. The third part assesses Nick Saban’s performance in Alabama.

Copyright © 2007 Ed Bagley

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