November 22, 2011

Dantonio wants to return to National Title contention

EAST LANSING - During the press conference following Michigan State's victory over Indiana, Mark Dantonio mentioned - perhaps publicly for the first time - that winning a National Championship was among his goals at Michigan State.

On Tuesday at his weekly press conference, Dantonio was asked to expand on that goal and where a National Championship resides on his list of objectives.

"Oh, it's up there, it's pretty high up there," Dantonio said. "Yeah, it's on my list. I've been there before."

Dantonio was defensive coordinator at Ohio State when the Buckeyes won the 2002 National Championship.

"Once you've been there before, you want to return," Dantonio said. "You want to return in a different light. So I do think it's possible. I do think that we have got good players coming here. I think there's a lot of parity in college football. I see it in the Big Ten Conference. I see it in the divisions. There's no team that cannot beat another team.  There's no givens out there. 

"Just like this weekend (at Northwestern), there's no given. You'd better be ready to play, but if you have special people on your football team that are geared towards success, there's opportunities for you."

Michigan State rose to No. 5 in the BCS standings last year before losing for the first time in late October at Iowa. The Spartans finished the season 11-1, but theoretically only one game away from being in the conversation for a shot in BCS National Championship game.

Michigan State certainly wasn't good enough to play for a National Championship last year, but Dantonio sees his program improving. And with it, Michigan State has navigated deep down the BCS path at least once.

"Last year's team, we lost one game‑‑ we lost two games, and we lost them decisively," Dantonio said. "But, you know, we're coming. So we'll just keep trying to move and keep trying to push our way forward."

Assistants To Get Raises

Dantonio confirmed that Michigan State's assistant coaches will get their contracts reworked at the end of the season.

"I'm not going to name the amount of money but we have a substantial amount of money for our assistants that we will be able to give raises to our assistants beginning February of next year," Dantonio said. "It should put us in the top three from what I understand in the conference, so that will be a great thing for our assistants."

Lippett Likely To Play WR Next Spring

Redshirt-freshman Tony Lippett is listed as an either/or starter along with sophomore Darqueze Dennard on the official depth chart for Saturday's game at Northwestern, which was released to media on Tuesday.

Dennard is the regular starter, but he has been slowed by injuries in the last few weeks. Lippett started ahead of the injured Dennard last week against Indiana. Lippett also played the final three quarters of MSU's victory at Iowa after Dennard was lost to an ankle injury.

Lippett started in place of Dennard and played all four quarters during MSU's victory over Minnesota.

Lippett has made fewer mistakes at cornerback as the season has progressed.

Lippett saw action at wide receiver earlier in the season. He has flipped back and forth from offense and defense during the early stages of his career at Michigan State, and there are plans to retain his two-way capabilities.

"He's a very good player and the great thing is he's got three more years," Dantonio said. "So we'll probably be able to play him either way next year. He'll probably move back to the wide position in the spring.  That's our plan based on the numbers."

The Spartans will graduate three wide receivers after this season - starters Keshawn Martin, B.J. Cunningham and Keith Nichol. The Spartans will likely be more in need of Lippett's skills as a receiver next year than cornerback.

"At this point right now he's a full‑time corner," Dantonio said. "I've said it all along, he's as good as any. He's a starter for us. I feel like that about him.

"Now, he didn't play as many plays as we wanted him to play early on, and that was just trying to find the right time, the right place.

"He's extremely valuable, we said that all along.  At one point he moved over, and he was our fourth wide receiver and we pushed him and played him at wide receiver and he had about four or five catches this season. He has the ability to go in there and play. He has the knowledge; we still practice him over there just to keep him a little fresh in that area.

"He can bend his knees.  He's got great speed. He's got tremendous ball skills. He's got great knowledge of what's going on, and he's calm. He can play at a fast pace."

Notes And Quotes

  • Dantonio on senior nose tackle Kevin Pickelman: "He's one of the toughest guys not only physically, but mentally, that maybe I've been around as a college coach. It's not that he's not nicked up. He gets dinged up but he goes back in and he fights through the pain.

    "He's a foxhole guy.  He's a guy that you want with you. He's an intense person. Very intense, very goal driven, very driven to be successful, and he's had an outstanding football career for us, an outstanding season for us. "

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