Despite coming off of a 3-9 season, Michigan State is in a much different position than the program was 10 years ago. At this time in 2007, Mark Dantonio had just been named the team’s head coach and was preparing for his first season.
Dantonio was named the new head coach shortly after the end of the 2006 season, replacing John L. Smith. While 2007 was only a mediocre success compared to the years to come, it felt like a new awakening in East Lansing.
In a season full of ups and downs, it may have been one postgame comment that changed Michigan State’s perception for the coming decade.
The 2007 recruiting class
Things started for Dantonio the same way they do for every successful head coach, with a strong recruiting class. The difference for MSU’s 2007 recruiting class, however, was no one expected it to be as good as it became.
The class included eventual stars Kirk Cousins, Chris L. Rucker, Greg Jones, Joel Foreman, Mark Dell, B.J. Cunningham and Garrett Celek. The ability to find hidden gems in recruiting became one of Dantonio’s calling cards throughout his tenure. Jones, Rucker and Dell made immediate impacts on the field their freshman year.
It wasn’t just freshman who made big steps in 2007 into major roles. The offense saw a new starter at quarterback, junior Brian Hoyer. The backfield was a lightning and thunder combination of Javon Ringer and Jehuu Caulcrick with Devin Thomas taking the role as the Spartans stud receiver. On defense, Jones lead the team in tackles, but it was defensive lineman Jonal Saint-Dic who was the star of the unit, having a team leading 10 sacks.
Despite starting the season with four straight wins, by November the Spartans were in the midst of a 1-4 stretch heading into the Michigan game. None of their losses were blowouts, in fact none came by more than a touchdown difference, but with three games left the Spartans needed to win twice to secure their first bowl bid in four years.
Ironically, the defining moment of the 2007 season, and arguably Dantonio’s career, came in another heartbreaking loss, this time to the team’s biggest rival. After Michigan State blew a 10-point fourth quarter lead against Michigan in East Lansing, Wolverines running back Mike Hart couldn’t resist adding insult to injury.
"I was just laughing. I thought it was funny. (The Spartans) got excited, it's good. Sometimes you get your little brother excited when you're playing basketball and let him get the lead. Then you just come back and take it back."
Two days later, Dantonio said the words that would be forever linked to the coming shift in control of the MSU-UM rivalry.
I find a lot of the things they do amusing. They need to check themselves sometimes. Let’s just remember, pride comes before the fall. ... They want to mock us, I’m telling them, it’s not over. They want to print that crap all over their locker room, it’s not over and it’ll never be over here. It’s just starting. ... I’m very proud of our football team, and I’m very proud of the way our football team handled themselves after the game as well. You don’t have to disrespect people. If they want to make a mockery of it, so be it. Their time will come.”
The Spartans finished the regular season with a pair of wins against Purdue and Penn State, both of which would be headed to bowl games. The 2007 season ended with another one-score loss to Matt Ryan’s Boston College Eagles.
After his Michigan comment, Dantonio would go 7-2 against the Wolverines. Dantonio built a program that would go on a nine-season bowl streak, first failing to qualify in 2016. The 2007 season became the bedrock of a program that was built up from what had become a Big Ten bottom feeder.