Mark Dantonio wants to make it abundantly clear there is no lingering animosity between him and the coaching staff at Ohio State.
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”There are no issues,” Dantonio said Tuesday. ”A lot of times I think it’s the media bringing up things that happened two years ago that are trying to create that.”
Still, the matchup is an intriguing one.
Dantonio’s 10th-ranked Spartans take on the second-ranked Buckeyes on Saturday night in a Big Ten championship game full of story lines. Dantonio was an assistant at Ohio State under Jim Tressel when the Buckeyes had their national title season in 2002. Now he’s standing in the way of a different Ohio State staff that is on the verge of playing for a national championship.
Michigan State hasn’t played in the Rose Bowl since 1988, but the Spartans (11-1) have a chance to end that drought with a win this weekend.
Dantonio is even acknowledging the far-fetched possibility that the team he coaches could work its way into the BCS championship discussion this year.
”When we – or however you want to put this – if we’re 12-1 at the end of the week, why not us?” Dantonio said. ”If certain scenarios take place, which obviously, last week you saw a lot of scenarios take place. There are no givens in college football.”
Dantonio did say he thought the Buckeyes (12-0) should play for the national title if they beat Michigan State, and there was no real hint of any tension between him and the school where he once coached.
Dantonio is from Zanesville, Ohio, and he was an assistant at Ohio State before taking over as the head coach at Cincinnati before the 2004 season. He later moved on to Michigan State.
Tressel remained in charge at Ohio State until he was forced out before the 2011 season amid a memorabilia-for-cash scandal. Urban Meyer eventually took over the Buckeyes, and they haven’t lost since, winning 24 straight games over the last two seasons. Meyer’s aggressive reputation from his days at Florida immediately drew attention throughout the Big Ten, where ”flipping” recruits suddenly became a major topic.
Dantonio was asked about that on signing day in 2012 and said he thought it was ”pretty unethical” to aggressively pursue verbal commitments from other programs. Dantonio was speaking generically – and released a statement a couple days later insisting he wasn’t directing his comments at any school in particular.
Last season, after Ohio State’s 17-16 win in East Lansing, Michigan State complained that the Buckeyes had sent ”incomplete” video before the game. Spartans defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi told the Detroit Free Press that Ohio State had deleted pre-snap motions and shifts before plays on video of its first four games that season. Narduzzi indicated that the Spartans had complained to the league, although Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said he and Gene Smith, his counterpart at Ohio State, had settled the issue.
Dantonio wasn’t about to dwell on any of that Tuesday.
”All that is resolved to my satisfaction,” Dantonio said. ”I think coaches are very competitive people by nature, and they’re going to try and win, and they want to try and get every single little bit of information that they can. But yeah, there’s no issues. There’s no issues.
”I have some very, very good friends that are on Ohio State’s staff.”
As for this week’s controversy of the moment — whether Buckeyes offensive lineman Marcus Hall should be suspended for Saturday’s title game after being ejected against Michigan last weekend — the Spartans weren’t about to cry foul.
”I’m excited that no one is suspended,” Michigan State linebacker Max Bullough said. ”I hope no one does get suspended. I want to play their best. I think if we were in that same situation they’d say the same.”
Although there is a lot at stake this weekend, it doesn’t look like there will be much of a war of words leading up to this title game.
”Obviously I worked for Coach Tressel and he’s had a huge impact on my life, had some very exciting times when I was there,” Dantonio said. ”I understand the traditions, I understand the expectations that go along with being there. Have deep respect for Ohio State and what they’ve been able to accomplish.”