Do you remember Michigan State football before Mark Dantonio? Those not so long ago days featured Spartan teams that were woefully inconsistent and even when things were going well for the players, it was just as likely the coaches would screw things up. Even football god Nick Saban averaged five losses a year while at MSU.
That is not the Michigan State football of today. The Mark Dantonio regime arrived in 2007 and immediately installed a discipline and stability that permeates every level of of the program.
No longer little brother to their in-state rival and following consecutive top-five finishes -- is it possible Michigan State has replaced Michigan as Ohio State's biggest threat in the conference?
The relationship and links between Ohio State and Michigan State are hard to ignore. Dantonio cut his coaching chops as an assistant at OSU and his current program displays a Tressel-like knack for precise special teams, stingy defense and a conservative, yet effective offense. But it goes deeper than that. As Dantonio pointed out at Friday's Big Ten Media Day, "I think it's a rivalry because I'm from Ohio, we have so many players from Ohio on our football team. I think 27 last year."
And now, for the first time in a long time, Michigan State has Ohio State type expectations for the season. The Spartans enter the year ranked sixth in the coaches poll, but complacency is not acceptable to Dantonio.
"I think our focus is to always continue to try to reach higher," stated the coach.
With battles on the recruiting front and the series' last four meetings resulting in two wins a piece, the November 21st showdown in Columbus looms large.
"I have deep respect for what they've done down there. I was a part of that back in the early 2000s. And I respect that tradition very, very much," said Dantonio. But even with that respect, it's hard to see the Spartans backing down from anyone anytime soon.
And while they will certainly never replace That School Up A Little Less North as Ohio State's chief rival, they are almost assuredly Ohio State chief threat in 2015.