Should Michigan State Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio receive Big Ten Coach of the Year honors? This question has been posed throughout the duration of the season. It’s not a new revelation or anything. But what he was able to do with this football team was nothing short of incredible.
Now, let’s be honest here. The Wisconsin Badgers went a perfect 12-0, and now have a chance to go into Indianapolis and beat the Ohio State Buckeyes for a shot at a Big Ten Championship and an even more perfect 13-0 record. Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst is likely — and deservedly so — to win the Coach of the Year honor for the second consecutive year. The Coach of the Year announcement usually comes a few days before the Big Ten Championship game, so the outcome won’t likely matter anyways (it may even come today).
With that said, I think Dantonio’s consideration has to be next in line. Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Penn State’s James Franklin would certainly be in the running as well. Though, Pat Fitzgerald also did a fine job at Northwestern, and he was even able to beat Dantonio and the Spartans.
I don’t get a vote for this award, but if I did, I would consider things like expectations versus outcomes, personnel, team experience and schedule over strictly looking at wins and losses.
After a 3-9 finish in 2016, I personally had the Spartans finishing at 7-5 in 2017. A lot of the early talk from analysts pegged Michigan State as a fringe bowl team. And though I can’t speak for everybody, it seemed as if the general consensus had MSU finishing at 6-6, possibly 7-5. Fast forward to the end of November and the Spartans boast a 9-3 record.
Now, let’s look at personnel and experience. Michigan State started a sophomore quarterback coming off of a broken leg. The middle linebacker spot belonged to a relatively unknown sophomore named Joe Bachie. True freshman Josiah Scott started at cornerback. Fellow true freshmen Cody White took over a starting wide receiver spot early in the season. The inexperienced offensive line was full of freshmen and sophomores.
All together, Michigan State played 13 true freshmen this season — the most ever in the Dantonio era. In fact, five true freshmen not only played, but started against Rutgers in Week 13 — Scott, White, Kevin Jarvis, Matt Dotson and Jordan Reid. Not to mention the countless redshirt freshmen and other sophomores who played big roles for the Spartans.
You know there was a lot of action for freshmen when four Spartans were just named to the Big Ten Network All-Freshmen Team.
Schedule wise, MSU’s wasn’t easy. Playing in the Big Ten East never is. Yet, this Michigan State team beat Iowa and Penn State at home and Michigan on the road. The Spartans beat lesser opponents as good teams do. Sure, there was some bad: The triple-overtime loss to Northwestern hurt. The Notre Dame game was painful to watch as MSU kept shooting itself in the foot. The Ohio State game was downright embarrassing.
But maybe voters don’t always just look at records. Maybe they do look at the things I mentioned and take the intangibles into account. The last two winners, Chryst (coaches) and Franklin (media), who tied for the honor in 2016, both finished the season with three losses. Before that, Jerry Kill of Minnesota finished 8-5 in 2014 and Bill O’Brien of Penn State finished 8-4 the previous year. It’s about what you’re able to accomplish given what you have and given the circumstances.
It is also important to remember that there are actually two separate votes for the Coach of the Year award. One is voted on by the 14 Big Ten head coaches (Hayes-Schembechler Coach of the Year) and the other is voted on by the media (Dave McClain Coach of the Year). So, it is possible for Dantonio to win one award and another coach to win the other, as we saw last season.
But coming off of a 3-9 campaign, playing in one of the nation’s toughest conferences and finishing with a 9-3 record overall and 7-2 conference record is something this team should be proud of, and something not many pundits expected.
Dantonio has been named Big Ten Coach of the Year twice in 2010 and 2013. The 2010 team finished with an 11-2 record and lost to Alabama in the Citrus Bowl. The 2013 team, of course, finished 13-1 and with a Rose Bowl victory over Stanford.
The program lost a ton of players to attrition throughout the offseason. Still Dantonio got his players to buy-in, as he always does. He got rid of distractions, he wasn’t afraid to play young guys and he got the absolute best out of his players.
His teams are not made up primarily of four or five-star recruits like other schools in the conference. He’s built a winning program here. Before his arrival, Michigan State football was far from what it is now.
Will Dantiono be named the Big Ten Coach of the Year by media members or fellow coaches? Probably not. But, accolades don’t always tell the story. He did one hell of a job with his youngest team ever and flipped the script from his worst season.
This is quite possibly Dantonio’s best coaching job during his tenure at Michigan State.
Who should win Big Ten Coach of the Year
This poll is closed