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Dantonio’s staff choices will tell us: Is this program elite? Or not?

What is this? An an elite, winning program? Or an after school buddy club?

Redbox Bowl - Michigan State v Oregon Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

It’s judgement day or week or month for Mark Dantonio and MSU.

Do you want to be a serious program? Or do you want to be an after school club where your friends hang out?

Here’s what serious programs do: They compete for conference titles. They go to (and win) New Year’s Six Bowl games. They dominate their rivalries.

Under Mark Dantonio, MSU has achieved all of those and has established itself as a serious, winning program.

Here’s what serious programs don’t do: See their program crash and burn back to mediocrity out of stubbornness.

Well, under Mark Dantonio lays a very horrible offense. And the stubbornness to not make any staff changes whatsoever will send a message that, no, MSU isn’t serious about being an elite program.

It’s not even that hard of a change.

Even an average offensive coordinator would’ve been fine. MSU was an average offense away this year from playing in another New Year’s Six Bowl, at worst. At best, they could have been playing for another Big Ten title and possibly another shot at the College Football Playoff.

An average offense definitely gets you wins over Arizona State, Nebraska and Ohio State. Maybe even wins against Michigan or Northwestern. Regardless, at least three wins were filed under the loss column.

NCAA Football: Redbox Bowl-Michigan State vs Oregon Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

And save me the injury excuses after watching a MSU team with just one injured starter (Felton Davis) and one whole month to prepare score zero touchdowns against a very average defense in Oregon. And injuries aren’t making you call three straight run plays after your starting running back exits the game, only to follow it up with an unprotected rollout on 4th and 1. Or call a jet sweep to the short side of the field in the red zone on 2nd and 10. This wasn’t the only game those inane play calls happened either – I just don’t have the time to type them all out, and you don’t have the time (or deserve the misery) to read them all.

The proof of MSU’s steady downfall to its offensive-to-watch offense is in the offensive S&P+ rankings – a complex but reliable way to gauge how well a unit performs. Here is how MSU has fared in the last few years…

2014: 10th

2015: 31st

2016: 66th

2017: 92nd

2018: 114th

You’re getting figured out. Your offense is as obsolete as a Redbox kiosk. You’re scoring two touchdowns in your last four games. And, more damning, you’ve wasted the nation’s-best defense.

I’ll type it again – this team was just an average offense away from accomplishing big things. Instead of playing in Pasadena or Atlanta or wherever the defense deserved to play, you played to a 7-6 loss in the Redbox Bowl.

Shaking up the staff to get with the times and get your quarterback right (more on that in a little bit) is needed to stay in the national conversation. You don’t see elite programs settling for anything below average – it’s why Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley fired his defensive coordinator and mentor’s brother after a regular season loss to Texas.

Could you imagine if Notre Dame kept Brian VanGorder as defensive coordinator? Or if Ohio State kept Ed Warriner and Tim Beck as their co-offensive coordinators after the 2016 season where they pitched a shutout against Clemson? And those two didn’t coach units nearly as troubled as MSU’s offense.

Elite programs don’t settle for average, let alone well below average.

NCAA Football: Redbox Bowl-Michigan State vs Oregon Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

If for nothing else, do it for the quarterbacks.

It’s official – the quarterback position is a disaster.

And gee, I wonder why? It’s almost as if…

-Brian Lewerke was playing hurt against Michigan.

-Rocky Lombardi started against Purdue, looked great, but then was inexplicably benched for the still-hurt Brian Lewerke the following week. Just laying a nuke on any confidence Rocky built up during that Purdue win.

-After Lewerke struggles against Maryland and Ohio State (because, duh, he’s hurt), the coaching staff still insists that he’s actually not hurt for some reason. Cool, now the public thinks Lewerke is perfectly healthy and just actually sucks. I’m sure that’s awesome for a young quarterback’s psyche.

-Lombardi finally gets to play the last two games. Wow, I’m sure he has a lot of confidence and moxie after seeing his staff trot out a guy without a shoulder in his place. Shockingly enough, Rocky looked nothing like he did against Purdue. Now, I will say, having about 49 drops against Nebraska didn’t help either.

-Lewerke plays against Oregon after a month of preparation and looked like he’s never played the position before.

WOW, how did the once-solid quarterback situation turn into a two month-long sequence of Kevin spilling chili all over the place?

The poor kids need to throw the 2018 season into the dumpster and head into 2019 with a new mindset and change of scenery. I don’t know if that’s saying goodbye to QB coach Brad Salem or co-offensive coordinators Dave Warner and Wilford Brimley Jim Bollman.

Between the actual offensive production and quarterback’s needing a fresh slate, I don’t know how an elite program can just stand firm on the staff. Or, then again, maybe this isn’t an elite program.

Mark Dantonio gets to make that decision any time now.