Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 19, 2016

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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40 SEPT. 19, 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI PROGRAM VS. TEAM Beginning with the 2010 football season when Brian Kelly took over at Notre Dame, Michigan State has been a remarkable 66-16 (.805 winning per- centage). Meanwhile, Notre Dame is 56-24 (.700). Yet it would be inaccurate to say that Michigan State is superior to Notre Dame in football. In recruiting, for whatever star rankings and the like are worth, Notre Dame will rank ahead of Michigan State generally 19 years out of 20. For example, the Rivals class rankings for Notre Dame from 2012-16 were 16, 3, 11, 11 and 12, whereas for the Spartans they were 41, 40, 22, 22 and 20. More importantly, on the field, since losing in overtime at Michigan State in 2010 (34-31), Notre Dame has van- quished the Spartans in three straight tries: 31-13 (2011), 20-3 (2012) and 17- 13 (2013, the lone defeat for 13-1 MSU that year). The main difference for now is that Michigan State has become a "pro- gram" under head coach Mark Dan- tonio. Under Kelly, the Fighting Irish have been right on the cusp of becom- ing a program, but have not been able to string together three straight 10- to 13-win seasons, thereby remaining just a "team." How is Michigan State a "program" while Notre Dame is just a "team" at present? • MSU's 65 wins from 2010-15 were tied for fifth most in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and its 36 victories over the past three are the fourth most. • The 2015 Spartans finished ranked in the Associated Press top 10 for the third year in a row (No. 3 in 2013, No. 5 in 2014 and No. 6 in 2015), a first for the program since 1955-57. They are the lone program in the FBS to finish in the top six of the last three AP polls. • Michigan State, which has posted a 36-5 record since 2013, is one of only four schools in the nation to play in a Bowl Championship Series Game (2014 Rose Bowl), a New Year's Six game (2015 Cotton Bowl) and the Col- lege Football Playoff (2015 CFP Semi- final at the Cotton Bowl) in the last three seasons (Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State are the others). It also won four straight bowls, including the Rose and Cotton, before losing in the College Football Playoff last year. • The Spartans have won seven of their last eight against Michigan, and are 2-1 in the last three contests ver- sus Urban Meyer's mighty Ohio State Buckeyes. That pendulum might be ready to swing back the other way. • The Spartans are 7-2 in their last nine games against opposition ranked in the AP top 10. When Notre Dame can start putting together such figures, it too can be deemed a "program." With all the top-flight personnel it must replace this season, Michi- gan State might be in for a dip after averaging 11 wins over the past six seasons — with a 7-6 mark in 2012 the outlier. A 9-3 or even 8-4 ledger might be more in the cards this year, although the Spartans do have Wis- consin, Ohio State and Michigan at home. Either way, it would be a quality win this September for Notre Dame, which is still aspiring to become a more consistent operation. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS The 2015 Michigan State Spartans felt Notre Dame's 2012 pain. A magnificent 12-1 regular season that earned head coach Mark Dan- tonio's program a spot into the four- team College Football Playoff became sullied with a 38-0 annihilation at the hands of Alabama's juggernaut. The Crimson Tide likewise had a 35-0 lead against 12-0 and No. 1 Notre Dame in the Jan. 7, 2013 BCS National Cham- pionship Game before cruising to the 42-14 victory. Like the 2012 Fighting Irish that were 5-0 in games decided by seven points or less (two of them in overtime) and GAME PREVIEW: MICHIGAN STATE Top STorylineS Head coach Mark Dantonio guided Michigan State to 65 victories from 2010-15 — the fifth most in the FBS during that stretch — and the Spartans are the lone program to finish in the top six of the last three AP polls. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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