Among the questions facing Michigan State football this season are the usual ones that have to do with position battles and expectations. There are inquiries about youngsters looking to make an impact and veterans hoping to improve or finally break out.
But what about motivation?
That has never been a hard one for the Spartans, who had to be rebuilt when coach Mark Dantonio took over in 2007, all the while looking up at teams like Ohio State and Michigan (even as the Wolverines fell on hard times themselves).
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Nobody truly likes to be the underdog, and many coaches are adept at using slights and rejections as motivation to get better, a tactic Dantonio used deftly to help make sure his team was always getting better.
But they beat Ohio State two years ago to win the Big Ten championship, and they have dominated the series with Michigan this decade. After putting together back-to-back 12-win seasons, Dantonio was asked on the team’s media day if they are "still fighting for respect," presumably because they seem to have earned it on the field.
"I don’t think that’s ever over," the coach replied. "I think you compete against yourself and what you’ve done already, and we try and reach new heights."
Hence the 2015 team’s motto: Reach higher.
"I think that’s the norm," Dantonio said. "If you look at our basketball program, I don’t think Coach (Tom) Izzo has ever been satisfied. I don’t think that’s the makeup of a coach or the program, or any real program, any championship-type program or program that’s won a lot successively."
As evidenced by the reference to the perennial powerhouse Spartan men’s basketball team that has won a national championship and made numerous Final Fours under Izzo, Dantonio does not see getting to the top as any reason to alter the identity of a team built on blue-collar tendencies.
"We’re going to come to work every day — That’s all I can tell you," Dantonio said.
"We’re not going to take things for granted. We’re going to try and stay grounded in who we are and what we do and understand that the game is played on the field. I think that’s the point that a lot of people in the press miss sometimes. The game is played on the field. It will be determined between those lines. Players make plays. We’ve got to coach the players, and we’ve got to engrain in them a sense of discipline and be mature, and they’ve got to have a sense of maturity in terms of how they handle issues on the field, adversity. That’s a big part of it."