I realize that ND's football coach isn't completely (aside from the one game we play each year) an issue to us but it seems like there is a lot more to this if we "peel the onion".
After this year's 6-6 setback there has been some discussion on the message boards that we hired the wrong guy three years ago, that we should have, in fact, hired Brian Kelly.
So...it seems valid to discuss certain aspects of both coaches and their programs and potentially what the future of the MSU/ND rivalry will look like.
According to this site http://cincinnati.rivals.com/cdepthtext.asp 13 of the 22 offense and defense "starters" on the University of Cincinnati’s football team are seniors, if you include the 2 seniors on special teams, then 68% of the starters on the UC undefeated football team were recruited by and spent at least one season with Mark Dantonio. The rest of the "starters" on this page are juniors.
Caveats: There are differences between the posted site and the official UC football site http://www.gobearcats.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/cinn-m-footbl-mtt.html. For example Collaros the QB is listed on rivals as a junior whereas gobearcats lists him as a RS SO. Dominick Goodman is listed on rivals but not on the official site. An argument can be made that Brian Kelly won this year with player's he inherited from Mark Dantonio. Understandably, I'm sure freshman and sophomores had an impact on the team...maybe further analysis could be done to determine minutes played by each class.
What does this mean? Does it bode well for us that players/starters MD recruited were effectively two plays away from the National Championship game and could potentially (big IF) finish a season 13-0? Or is their record a function of playing in a "weaker" BCS league? Could Kelly have done better with the players he would have inherited from John L. Smith than Dantonio did?
The next thing to consider is what would have happened had MSU hired Brian Kelly in 2007 instead of Mark Dantonio. If my memory serves me correct, Kelly actively campaigned (as much as he could being a head coach at CMU at the time) for the job. I never got the feeling than that he considered MSU as anything more than the next stop on his coaching resume. Dantonio on the other hand, had ties to MSU and saw us as a slumbering giant, one that had achieved greatness in the past and could be returned to the ranks of national powers. I never got the impression that Brian Kelly saw us that way. Much like he treated UC, I feel he would have left us when a bigger better deal came along. It will be interesting to see how the next coach at UC does with Kelly's players. CMU has been very successful with the players Kelly recruited while there.
Brian Kelly is an offensive minded coach. Interestingly, while Dantonio comes from the defensive side of the ball, his MSU teams have been more known for their offensive rather than defensive prowess. Would hiring Kelly have helped us score more points? Undoubtedly. Would we have won more games? I'm not as sure.
Finally, what does this all mean to the MSU/ND rivalry? Kelly is a brash (arrogant, some might say) coach who will no doubt make it a point to focus on beating us as he probably feels slighted by not being hired by us. There is no love lost between the schools, so his hiring at ND will probably increase the animosity and national awareness of our rivalry. A rivalry, that I feel, fails to garner the national respect it deserves. We have played ND more times in football than we have played many of our B10 league colleagues. They've only played three schools (Navy, USC and Purdue) more times than they've played us. We've beat them more times than any other school besides USC. So in my mind, any added spice we can add to this rivalry is a good thing. Good for us, good for them and good for college football.