Spar­tans’ Dan­to­nio proves he owns Michi­gan,

Coach sets state stan­dard for pro­gram-sav­ing

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - INSIDE - Gra­ham Couch @Gra­ham_Couch USA TODAY Sports

Let me tell you what the sav­ior of a col­lege foot­ball pro­gram ac­tu­ally looks like.

He turns an embattled pro­gram into a na­tional player. He takes his school to heights it never dreamed it could reach. And when his pro­gram falls down hard on his watch, just as his world seems to be crum­bling, he takes the youngest team he’s ever coached into his archri­val’s house and re­minds us that he still owns them.

“We’ve done it eight times,” Michi­gan State coach Mark Dan­to­nio said after last week­end’s 14-10 win at Michi­gan. “So I don’t know why there’s a lot of doubt.”

Dan­to­nio is a pro­gram sav­ior. At Michi­gan, Jim Har­baugh is not.

If you don’t see it now, it’s a symp­tom of th­ese times. We all live in our bub­bles, re­treat to our cor­ners and only hear what re­in­forces our be­liefs. Some be­lieve Har­baugh is su­pe­rior to all other nouns.

Ever since he took over at Michi­gan in De­cem­ber of 2014, we’ve heard he was cut from a dif­fer­ent cloth, didn’t bleed like the rest of us, saw the game on a higher plane.

And that Dan­to­nio’s reign over this ri­valry would soon meet its right­ful demise. It was a fluke. A mat­ter of good coach­ing, sure, but mostly good tim­ing. Michi­gan had, by no fault of its own, hired two coaches who weren’t the right fit, Rich Ro­driguez and Brady Hoke, open­ing the door for Dan­to­nio’s lit­tle en­gine that could.

With Har­baugh in Ann Ar­bor, Dan­to­nio’s six wins in seven years would sim­ply go down as a cute and brief stretch in the ri­valry’s mostly one-sided his­tory.

Ex­cept now it’s eight wins in the last 10 years. It’s four wins in five meet­ings at Michi­gan Sta­dium, which is in­cred­i­ble if you think about what this ri­valry once looked like. It’s twice in three sea­sons against Har­baugh.

He did again Oct. 7, beat­ing Michi­gan as a dou­ble-digit un­der­dog for the first time. The Wolver­ines were ranked No. 7, a Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off hope­ful, in their third sea­son with the Quar­ter­back Whis­perer as their coach. Dan­to­nio, con­sid­ered an of­fen­sive dolt com­pared to Har­baugh, beat Michi­gan in large part be­cause he had a bet­ter quar­ter­back — a young kid, a red­shirt sopho­more, Brian Lew­erke.

Dan­to­nio is 8-3 against Michi­gan. Har­baugh is 1-2 against the Spar­tans and 0-2 against Ohio State — his two ri­vals. What­ever the Buck­eyes are to MSU, Danto- nio is 3-5 against them. Har­baugh took over a pro­gram that brought in top 10 re­cruit­ing classes twice in the three years be­fore he ar­rived. He didn’t take over some mis­fit out­post. Dan­to­nio did that.

A decade later, per­haps we can fi­nally see it. All of us. Not just those who view life through a green-and-white prism — all of us who watched what tran­spired Oct. 7. All of us who’ve seen this ri­valry play out since 2007, Dan­to­nio’s first sea­son, and since 2014, when Har­baugh be­came his ad­ver­sary.

Har­baugh is a fine coach. He did won­ders for the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers and did the im­pos­si­ble for Stan­ford. At Stan­ford, he’s a pro­gram changer, if not sav­ior. At Michi­gan, he’s the lat­est guy who can’t fig­ure out how to beat the Spar­tans or Buck­eyes.

Dan­to­nio might have the stronger team this year. Cer­tainly a more well-rounded one than the Wolver­ines. We couldn’t see it un­til we saw th­ese teams on the same field. Then it was clear.

As was this: Dan­to­nio is the stan­dard in this state.

Couch writes for the Lans­ing (Mich.) State Jour­nal, part of the USA TODAY Net­work.

“We’ve done it eight times. So I don’t know why there’s a lot of doubt.” Mark Dan­to­nio

MIKE CARTER, USA TODAY SPORTS

Mark Dan­to­nio’s Michi­gan State teams have beaten Michi­gan eight times in 10 years.

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