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December 16, 2014

Mark Dantonio

COACH DANTONIO:  First of all, very excited about the challenge against Baylor.  I think it will be a tremendous challenge.  You have the No. 5 ranked team in the country playing the No. 8.  So Baylor comes in No. 1 in the entire nation, I think, in scoring offense and passing offense as well.
Philosophy offensively I think is to spread you horizontally and vertically down the field by using also very rapid deployment of an offense.  So it's as fast as maybe we've ever seen, so that's going to be another challenge in itself.  They run the football equally as well.
Personnel‑wise on the offensive side of the ball, they have two guys that are All‑Big 12, one All‑American in Drango, their tackle.  And I think Shock Linwood is an excellent back.  He's got over 1,200 yards of offense.  And two outstanding receivers in Coleman and Goodley, and obviously Bryce Petty is a tremendous football player.
So, great challenge for our defense.  Offensively, a little bit like us in the form that they're a multiple front team, a four‑three based team, quarters coverage a little bit, a lot, and good players on that side of the ball as well.  Two All‑Big Ten defensive linemen.  They're No. 1 in the conference against the rush.  So it's going to be a challenge to stay balanced against them.  Second Team All‑Big Ten linebacker and I think their specialists are good as well.
Coach Briles has done a tremendous job really building that program to a national contender, and he's done that over the course of four years plus, I believe.  An outstanding person and has had outstanding success everywhere he's been.
Their defensive coordinator, Phil Bennett, is an excellent football coach.  He's been very successful as well with opportunities at Pitt.  I know he was the defensive coordinator for Bill Snyder at K‑State.  He was a head football coach as well, and now having a lot of success at Baylor.  So very, very excited about the challenge.
The Cotton Bowl in itself is, I think, a tremendous venue.  Dallas is always one of the premier places you want to go when you're a coach in this business.  When they have the coaching convention in Dallas, in the city of Dallas, it's one of the best conventions around.  A lot of things to do there.  Very excited about the tradition and the history of the Cotton Bowl and this match‑up in general.  Being nationally televised football game prior to the playoff game, so it's going to get a lot of national notoriety and a lot of national media coverage.  So we're very, very excited about the opportunity to play there.
As I grew up as a young person, the Cotton Bowl is one of those games that you always watched and always were drawn to just because of the bigness of it, really.
So very, very excited about those opportunities, and I'll just take some questions.

Q.  When Pat Narduzzi was up there a couple minutes ago, he said he remembered a couple years ago where you got off to the 0‑4 start in Bowl games and he said people kept saying, "Same old Spartans."  He said he hasn't heard that in years and years.  I haven't heard it either.  Can you pinpoint what happened in the last couple years to change that mentality?  Is it something about the preparation you've done?  Is it something about the players you've brought in?  What's changed and gotten you over the hump in these Bowl games?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think first of all, when we came here we had not been to a Bowl game maybe in four years.  So the first thing was about getting back to the Bowl game, and we were able to do that.  In '07 we played very competitively against BC.  In '08, we played very competitively against a great Georgia team.  In '09 we went down to the Alamo Bowl and played competitively there.
'10 we got blown out by Alabama and did not play well enough.  Then we started winning in '11 against Georgia again, and '12 against TCU, and '13 last year against Stanford.  So we've played three very, very good football teams and three well‑coached teams these last three times out.
I think the first thing you have to be able to do is get to the Bowl game, establish a winning culture.  We were able to do that.  Then the next thing we had to do was be able to win on the road.  We've been able to do that.  The third thing that had to come was winning these Bowl games.  I think we've taken a different approach and changed up our mentality or schedules a little bit to try and fit and make us as successful as we possibly can.
I think that's what's happened.  Our players believe in what we're doing.  We have very good football players and we're playing at a high level.  In each of those opportunities, where we've the football game, we came in with an attitude and took an a approach that we were going to stay fresh, we were going to have a good time, but we were going to take a very business‑like approach as well.

Q.  Coach Briles is considered among Big 12 people as one of the best to make adjustments.  So when you're planning with weeks knowing that, how much is planning for what you've seen on film, and how much is playing poker thinking, well, he might do this?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, I think when you watch them across the year, they do a lot of different things.  So you really have to just sort of format what are they going to do against you, and as always, it's game‑day adjustments as you move forward.  You try to plan, just like they try to plan.  But everybody's got something different that they're going to do, especially when they have a little bit of time to prepare.  Then you have to adjust on game day.
In the end, defending Baylor really is about getting lined up and playing fast, and that's a tremendous challenge in itself, because they are probably the fastest or what is on record as the fastest team between snaps in the country.  So that is the number one challenge.
Then it's the tackle in space, because they're going to present opportunities for you to play them horizontally across the field, because they're going to spread you out by formations.  So you've got to get them on the ground, and they have excellent players throwing the ball, catching the ball.  Then you have to stop the run, because they're running it just as much as they're going to pass it.  And all those things become very, very difficult to defend.  Beyond that, you've got to do some different things or they're going to do some different things as well, so you have to adjust.
But I think those three things are going to take place.  They're going to run the ball, they're going to spread you.  They're going to do it fast.  And they have good football players.

Q.  Earlier, Mark Hollis was talking about going to this Bowl game and being 10‑2, and maybe the fan base feeling a little disappointed because you're not in the playoff, and after having that Rose Bowl season.  Is there any part of you that with the players sometimes you feel you have to guard against a little bit of a feeling of a letdown with them, that maybe they're not playing exactly where they wanted to be?
COACH DANTONIO:  No, as I've said before, everybody always wants to go further.  That's just human nature.  They want to go further.  They want to get paid more.  They want to get the next job, whatever it is, they want to go a little farther.  Because I think humans or people just want challenges.  So we challenge ourselves to be the very best.  But we're a 10‑2 football team.  We have a great football team.  We've been in the Top 10 pretty much the entire year or hanging around there.  And that is something that hasn't been done for a long, long time.  That's something that wasn't done last year.  We rose to that Top 10 ranking after we won the championship game.  Up until that point in time we were outside of it.
So people expect more.  That is their right.  But it gives us an edge.  It gives us a little bit of an edge and chip on our shoulder as we go, and we use whatever we need to use.
But we're a 10‑2 football team and proud of what we've been able to accomplish thus far.  We have an opportunity to play against a good football team, and possibly winning that game puts us right on the fringe of being an 11‑2 football team and being on the fringe of being in the playoffs.  So we use that to move forward.

Q.  You said many times in the off‑season how difficult it would be to repeat at a BCS level.  I know some people look at this season as a disappointment because‑‑
COACH DANTONIO:  I don't understand why people keep saying that.  I mean, we're 10‑2.

Q.  That's what I was going to ask you.
COACH DANTONIO:  People keep saying that's major disappointment.  I mean, move on.

Q.  Well, to finish the question what I was going to ask, is how much more difficult challenge has been for this year's team because of what you came off versus last year, I don't want to say you snuck up on people, but this year there were higher expectations on this team and you were the target for a lot of opponents?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, it was about handling success as we've said over and over.  But we lost to two very good football teams, two teams that are in the playoffs.  Oregon, week number two, I believe, which has the Heisman Trophy winner by far, and an Ohio State team that came in here with something to prove and played well, where we didn't measure up probably on one side of the ball as well as we've played.  Doesn't mean that however you want to throw that out, but we didn't play well enough to win.
After that, I'd say that we handled our competition.  Whether it's the last three games or the games before that.  So you take away those two games, and you play pretty well.  But that's our record.  Ten wins, two losses, which I think is the fifth time in the history of this program that we've won double digits.  Four of the last five years, as I've said.
I'm very proud of our football team and our players and what they've been able to accomplish, and the way we've responded and handled problems.  And that is as big as anything.  I was extremely proud of our football team in 2012 when we finished 7‑6.  I just want players doing the very best they can do and doing it with an attitude.

Q.  Can you talk about having the Big 12 experience, and what that Cotton Bowl means.  Especially now that it's back into the year six rotation when it was out of it.  It seems it lost a little luster, but this is the kind of match‑up that does bring back that luster of the Cotton Bowl.
COACH DANTONIO:  I think the Cotton Bowl, as I grew up, was always the Southwest Conference champion playing the Big 12 champion.  That was the game.  So there was a lot of Oklahoma versus Arkansas or whoever they were playing in those games.  So I think it was a tremendous venue, and it was a national game, and it was a game that everybody looked at on New Year's Day.  That's just the history of it.
I think it's probably taken on similar game as probably the Capital One Citrus Bowl in recent years, being one of the top SEC teams playing one of the top Big 12 teams, at least from what I know.
So a great football game.  A lot of things to play for in that game, much like the Capital One Bowl.  That is a great experience.  So they put the money up to have people to get involved in the Big Six, and I think it's a tremendous venue.

Q.  Would you be in favor of expanding the playoffs to eight?
COACH DANTONIO:  I guess that would include us this year.  Absolutely (laughter).

Q.  What do you see are the positives or negatives to that?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think the positives are that any football team, if you sit there and said that we're playing a No. 15 team right now, there would be great challenges for us across the board.  I just think there is a lot of parity in college football, and that rises up levels, so anybody can beat anybody at one given time, and I think you see that.
The negatives would be just how you go about it.  The bowls are a great‑‑ the bowl infrastructure I think is tremendous for college football, and you wonder what kind of hit that would take.  I'm not sure how you would do it, but obviously there are a lot of football teams that can play great football.
I do think that what's happened is you get this final four mentality, that these four teams have had success, and these 126 teams have not or 124 teams have not.  I don't think that's the case.

Q.  I was going to ask you a two‑part question:  You briefly crossed when you were in Conference USA, I know you didn't play Briles directly, but did you have any flashbacks when you were watching film and seeing what his offense was like even then?  Secondly, what is the back story?  You're a Texas native and you were born there, but you obviously grew up in Ohio, and I wondered if you spent any time there in your youth?
COACH DANTONIO:  First of all, when I was in Conference USA at the University of Cincinnati, they were not a team that we played nor were they in that back in 2004.  So I didn't have any experience with that at that time.  I did play TCU, but people were moving in and out of that conference around that time.
Then secondly, I was born in El Paso, and have relatives still in Dallas and the Fort Worth area, but moved shortly thereafter, a year after.  But it's always nice to say you're from Texas.

Q.  You mentioned earlier changing the preparation from Bowl games.  I wonder if you could expand on that?  You changed from the Capital One to the Outback.  And earlier, Pat was talking about prepping for this offense.  Are you doing anything different significantly or is it easy to prep for that tempo Oregon versus now?
COACH DANTONIO:  Second question is we're trying to be innovative in terms of how we prepare.  I think that's all I can say about that the right now at this point.  We can talk about that maybe more after the game, whether it's successful or not successful, I guess.  But trying to be innovative in that respect.
We have had opportunities to play against no‑huddle teams and fast‑tempo teams and we need to build on what we already know about those teams and go to a higher level, I think.  Higher level of thinking to the best of our abilities.
In terms of preparation, I feel like Bowl games can wear you down a little bit because there is a lot going on.  We've got to stay fresh.  So number one thing that we wanted to make sure we did is our guys got their rest.  We're going to give them opportunities to rest.  They're going to get eight hours minimum.  You've got to have time to let them out because it's a Bowl game.  But they're going to get time to rest and hydrate, and make sure that we were fresh on game day, same things we do here.
Because I think over a period of a week's time that you can get worn down, and I think that's what we were doing.  We were trying to practice early in the morning and free up their afternoons, but they weren't using their afternoons, so we changed that, and I think it helped us a little bit.  But there are some other things we did in terms of how we're looking at things, just small things.

Q.  You've been through this a few years now with Pat, every time jobs come open, his name gets brought up.  How much do you every time it happens, do you think this is the time I'm going to lose him?  And how much do you pay attention to the dominos that happen around college football?
COACH DANTONIO:  I don't pay that much attention.  I look at them, like all of you look at them, and wonder what's going to happen.  But I don't look at it and say, how is that going to impact us in terms of our staff when somebody is interested in our coaches?  And people are going to be.  That is the nature of it.  When you're successful as a program, that is the nature of it.  People want to say, how are they doing that at Michigan State?  How is that happening there?  What turned that?  These guys must be responsible for that, and they are.  They want to hire people like that, and I think that's a good problem to have.  I think that's a good problem.  Part of my job is to try to make‑‑ try to build opportunities for other people, whether it's players or whether it's coaches.  So when those things happen, I think that's a positive for us.
In regards to Pat, I think he's been up there and talked about quite a lot, and I've continually said it's going to happen at some point in time.  When that point in time happens, it's going to be right for him.  And he's going to be prepared.  When that point in time happens, we've had this happen enough for us that we'll be prepared.  Up until that time it's status quo.  It's a good situation.

Q.  You talked about retaining staff.  You've kept guys like Steve Gardiner and Zac Hueter and Niko around this program when they've either had injuries or whatever the change to their careers.  Can you talk about your loyalty to those guys who have been your players?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, first of all, when a guy is DQ'd, medically disqualified, I ask them to continue to be a part of our program.  And I don't allow them to stray off and just be a student and not have any interaction with our football team.  I want them to feel of value.  I don't want them to lose their value as a player in our program.  So I've asked them to be involved in whether it's recruiting as a student‑assistant or on‑the‑field coaching as a student‑assistant or in the weight room or doing something.  I just think that's important for their self‑worth.
I've always tried to hire graduate assistants that have gone through our program because they know the end game.  They know what the results of playing here, all the sacrifices that they have to make to be able to play here, so I've always taken guys and said, hey, he knows.  He knows what is being expected.  He's gone through what these other guys have.  He has empathy for what they have, and he can give us a little direction in terms of where those people can give us a little direction of maybe what the players are thinking or remembering back to difficult times and what happens.  So I think there is value in that.
Plus the bottom line is, I want to do what I can for our players.  If they see themselves at some point in time becoming a coach, then I want to try to start that process and build that process for them.  I think I owe that to them.  But they have to earn their way to that, and it's a long road.
So we've got guys here from Ohio State when I coached there.  We've got guys from the University of Cincinnati when I coached there.  And obviously guys at Michigan State.  And even guys from when I coached here at Michigan State before, guys like Lorenzo Guess have been hired.  So I think it's a big positive.  We have a lot of players who have sort of played their way through this program and come out the other end, and now they're leaders from a staff standpoint.

Q.  Coach, reviewing the season and looking at the schedule and playing Oregon and Ohio State and now playing Baylor, would you say this is the most challenging schedule that any of your teams here at Michigan State have played in terms of what you've faced?
COACH DANTONIO:  That's a tough statement because I'd have to remember back.  But they're a very, very good football team and very explosive football teams.  Their quarterback has made it happen, and they've been surrounded with good skill.  All three of those teams have great skill that surround them as well, and play well on defense as well.

Q.  You touched a lot on the Bowl games and the process of getting to winning Bowl games.  How critical was winning that 2011 game with Kirk?  I mean, that was really what set forth this.
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, that was the first one.  We came off a very, very tough game in the championship game versus Wisconsin, losing in the last minute.  So to be able to pick yourself back up and go play a Georgia team which lost in the last minute versus Alabama, I believe, was a big challenge.  So we were able to do that.  I think that it erased a lot of the feelings from that championship game.  So that was number one, and that sort of paved the way, gave us belief in terms of what we've been able to do, and we've been able to counter that with these other Bowl games.
I think it's important to note that in every one of those Bowl games we were behind and we came back in those games to win.  So that's a positive for us.  That's something we can draw on and use as we move forward.  All Bowl games, it sort of puts an exclamation mark on the end of your season one way or the other.  Finished, done, sends your seniors out, and it builds things for next year.  You have to reach back and start to handle adversity right from the git‑go, or you have to‑‑ or you move forward with positive energy if you've been able to win.
But we played great football games.  There is no bad football team that you play in a Bowl game.  They're all teams that have had success.  In the Cotton Bowl, you're going to play a great football team that's had great success.  That is how that Bowl game is measured up, and it always will be.  It should be very, very exciting to watch and be a part of.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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