Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 25, 2017

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

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34 SEPT. 25, 2017 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY BRYAN DRISKELL N otre Dame and Michigan State have mirrored each other the last two seasons, and both are looking to do the same thing in 2017. Two years ago, Michigan State was a College Football Playoff team after winning the Big Ten championship, and Notre Dame was a pair of two- point losses — against eventual na- tional runner-up Clemson and Pac- 12 champion Stanford — away from joining the Spartans. Heading into the 2016 season, ex- pectations were sky high for both programs. The Fighting Irish went into the season as the No. 10 team in the Associated Press preseason poll and the Spartans were ranked No. 12. By season's end, the two teams com- bined for just seven wins while los- ing a collective 17 games. Like Notre Dame, the Spartans have completely overhauled their program. Michigan State didn't replace much on its coaching staff, but early departures to the NFL plus player suspensions and transfers decimated the roster. But according to publisher Jim Comparoni, that could end up being a good thing. "There was an uneven commitment up and down the roster, a lot of dis- sension on the team," Comparoni said of the 2016 Spartans. "All kinds of problems, and in this sport guys let- ting up just a little bit makes you just good enough to lose all your games." Head coach Mark Dantonio is look- ing to wash away the stink from last season, and he's doing it with a very young football team. So far, so good for Dantonio and the Spartans, who started the season off with a 35-10 win over Bowling Green and a 28-14 victory over Western Michigan. "I think it's Dantonio's youngest team ever," Comparoni said. "Of 22 starters, there are only two seniors. It's very much a sophomore-based team. "They're young, but they are deep. Twenty-six players played in the regu- lar defense against Western Michigan, and three of them are seniors. Four- teen are freshmen and sophomores." Despite the youth, Michigan State has shown itself to be a more fun- damentally sound football team, at least through the first two games of the season. "They are playing a lot of young guys, and they are playing correctly," Comparoni noted with a bit of sur- prise in his tone. "You're not seeing the errors we saw last year." Michigan State's 3-9 season was hor- rid, but its offseason was even worse. The Spartans saw a projected starter quit football, several players transfer and eight players suspended. Dan- tonio's troops had fallen from grace incredibly fast, but the program is looking to bounce back just as quickly. "The problems off the field and hitting rock bottom last year put ev- erybody on edge in a positive way," Comparoni explained. "I think we're seeing now that they had a very con- structive offseason in every aspect." According to Comparoni, the col- lection of young players and the re- turning veterans has bought into one mission: getting the Spartans back to playing a respectable brand of football. "The veterans know what it was like to be on a championship team and desperately want to return to that," he said. "Young players who signed with a Michigan State that was a championship team wanted to be a part of a winning team and that's not what happened last year. "The collective commitment has helped this team of young players ac- celerate their development to the point of being a competent team heading into this big game against Notre Dame." A pair of quarterbacks were vital pieces to Michigan State's rise un- der Dantonio. Current Washington Redskins starting quarterback Kirk Cousins led the Spartans to a 22-5 record from 2010-11, which began Michigan State's run of winning at least 11 games in five of six seasons. Connor Cook took over as the starter in 2013, leading Michigan State to a 36-5 record, a pair of Big Ten titles and to the 2015 College Football Play- off before being selected by the Oak- land Raiders in the 2016 NFL Draft. Michigan State's quarterback play GAME PREVIEW: MICHIGAN STATE ROCK BOTTOM After a 3-9 season and a tumultuous offseason, the Spartans are looking to return to their former glory Facts & Figures NOTRE DAME AT MICHIGAN STATE Game Info Date: Sept. 23, 2017. Site: Spartan Stadium (75,005). Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET. Television: FOX. Radio: This broadcast can be heard live on SIRIUS Satellite Radio (channel 129) and on Notre Dame's IMG affiliates. Series Facts: This is the 79th meeting between Notre Dame and Michigan State. The Irish lead the all-time series 48-29-1. Head Coaches: Notre Dame — Brian Kelly (61-32, eighth season); Michigan State — Mark Dantonio (92-42, 11th season). Noting Michigan State: Dantonio coached Cincinnati from 2004-06, compiling a record of 18-17 … He was replaced by Kelly, who led the Bearcats to a 34-6 record in three seasons (2007-09) … Notre Dame is 3-2 against Michigan State during Kelly's Irish tenure … The last time the two teams met in Spartan Stadium (Sept. 15, 2012) the Irish came away with a 20-3 victory over the No. 10 Spartans. Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio is looking to pick his program up off the ground after a disas- trous year on and off the field. PHOTO COURTESY MICHIGAN STATE ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS

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