As you separate yourself from the emotion of a disappointing 2012 season you can see things more clearly. MSU had hopes much higher than 7-6 (their final record) but you also can see progress. A bad season before Mark Dantonio arrived was less than a handful of wins. Now it is a winning record that includes a bowl victory. Still doesnâ€™t replace the emotion of last year, but it can temper it.
Mark Dantonio took to the platform yesterday to kick off essentially for the public the 2013 season. True to his direct no nonsense form he didnâ€™t ignore the elephant in the room left over from 2012. He went right at it.
â€œThe foundation has been set. I feel definitely that’s in place, expectations have continued to be raised around here, which they should, and really it’s now a time I believe to sort of fulfill our dreams as we move forward here with this next class. â€œ He went on to add, â€œWe’ve tried to focus on working hard, rehab, critiquing what we’ve done in the past in terms of off the field, whether it’s particularly with our coaches, but just trying to sort of regather information and restructure things as we move forward.â€
Dantonio went right at getting better saying, â€œThe next phase begins now in spring practice, and that’s really our second phase of preparation as we look at 2013, the focus will be, again, on technique, fundamentals, gaining experience for some of our guys, especially at various positions. We’ve got to change some things up in terms of what we do and the way we do things as usual, experiment, got to execute better, find our best 11, 12, 13 players that are next best. Work on some penalties type things, so we continue to harp on those things, not beat ourselves, have to compete, and then obviously just based on last year, we’ve got to find the inches, and I think that’s very important that we be able to do that.â€
He then went head on into exorcizing last yearâ€™s demons. â€œThe goal always is to get 3 percent better as we go, and I think if we do that individually as well as a team, we’re going to get better and better as spring progresses. And really just in closing, and then I’ll let you go with questions, but I remember Kirk Cousins talking with me one time in 2009 preparing for the 2009 season, and he was in a quarterback battle, and he felt like he had just climbed up a mountain, and then there was another peak there. And I think that’s the way we are as a football team. I think that’s the way it’s always going to be.â€
He put that into the prism of last season saying, â€œWe’ve climbed some mountains here. Last year after a Big Ten Championship, Legends champion, we got up there and we thought we had arrived, but I think we found that there were bigger mountains and a whole range of them, for which we still have to go. I think you can never forget where we’ve come from, who we are, and most importantly, how difficult it was to get there and how difficult it is to stay there.â€
So can Dantonio help the frustrations of last year fuel success in 2013? He thinks so. â€œI think the most important thing is we’ve got to gain confidence from our experiences. Both our successes and our failures, you need to bank those and then take those experiences and make them positive ones. The fact that you don’t have success in front of 100,000 people and a national audience, that should count for something, and that’s what we’re banking on.â€
He went on to say, â€œBeyond that, what we do in practice is try and simulate those situations, but it’s very, very difficult to do that unless you’re competing for the position knowing that if you don’t perform you go down the depth chart, which I think those type of things will happen.â€
He looked farther down the road than just starting spring ball. â€œObviously the spring game when you put a lot of people in the stands, it provides another opportunity for those guys to do those things. But until you get to game time, 3rd and 6, tie game, down by two, whatever, and you’ve got to make the play, one way or the other on the defensive side of the ball or the offensive side of the ball, it’s a little bit of an unknown. But as soon as you start making those plays, I think there’s a great deal of confidence that comes with it. And I think a lot of our players have had the opportunity. We won some close games, as well, so I’d like to put a little gap in there. But it is what it is sometimes. It’s a very competitive league, and everybody is working extremely hard. I don’t care whether you’re here or down the road or someplace else.â€
The Spartans have a much easier schedule in 2013. It also is a very anemic home schedule that brings in only Michigan as a marquee home game. Attendance will suffer from that schedule added to a disappointing 2012, but Dantonio can right the ship and he will.
To start that journey it begins in the fans mind when spring ball starts. That time is now.