It only took until Sunday night before the ‘shots’ were fired in what has been a long, historic rivalry. After all, MSU and Notre Dame kick off in less than a week.
Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly thinks the Irish have an advantage with a tougher schedule. Whether you agree or disagree, that’s not the story.
Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly isn’t afraid to launch an opening salvo to start off any week, but in this case he might not have meant to. Speaking to the media last night he was asked about how tough his schedule has been. The question wasn’t about the fact that MSU has faced three patsies, but Kelly took the bait.
He said, “When you’re playing tough competition, you’re being tested mentally and physically for four quarters, you’re definitely learning more about their personnel. They’re being challenged. I think you get a better understanding of your strengths and weaknesses. Again, you know, going into now the fourth game, you know where you need to improve, the areas you need to continue to work on.”
As is usually the case with Dantonio, he was presented by the media Kelly’s quote afterward on Sunday night. He wasted no time firing a salvo back saying, “We’re going to line up next Saturday against Notre Dame. We’ll find out who’s who. How’s that for a statement.”
And just like that welcome to Notre Dame week folks.
Two schools with a long and storied tradition led by coaches who don’t like each other (neither will say that in public but it is 100% accurate) and share a mutual dislike of the Wolverines. The two school’s historically are intertwined, with storied games that have helped define the game of college football.
Kelly went right back talking about Michigan State adding, “As it relates to Michigan State, again, another great rivalry game. It’s a game that we’ve played for a number of years. It’s always a great physical contest. That’s how Coach Dantonio prides himself on how they play. They play great defense. It should be another physical game.”
And then we get the vague reference to their schedule. “Third week in a row for us in terms of playing a Big Ten opponent, back‑to‑back‑to‑back right out of the gates. We ask our guys to do a lot here at Notre Dame.”
I love the rivalry. I love the moments that historically have defined the rivalry and the digs that are made back and forth over the years between players and coaches alike. When you have coaches that are simmering all week, it makes it more fun for the fans, players and media.
Kelly desperately wanted the Michigan State job when John L. Smith was hired. I remember being on the phone with him when I learned that Mark Dantonio got the job. Kelly had strong supporters inside the Spartan’s non-athletic leadership, but when the Spartans passed over Kelly for Coach Dantonio, it was Kelly who ultimately landed in Cincy replacing Mark Dantonio.
Dantonio grew up an avid Irish fan that didn’t get a chance to play under the outstretched arms of ‘Touchdown Jesus.’ He and his father Justin shared a love for Notre Dame. Mark holds a great deal of respect for the university. It was Kelly, that tried to deny Trevor Anderson’s opportunity to transfer to MSU when he chose to follow Dantonio and his staff to Michigan State.
So as the week starts off, make no mistake about it. For both of these head coaches, it is personal. Kelly embraces the tradition of the Irish, but doesn’t like Dantonio. Dantonio doesn’t like him. This is the one week where the Spartans and the Irish players can get motivated by their coach’s disdain.
This is fun. This is what college football is all about. Regardless of their respective schedules, this is MSU vs. Notre Dame.
So in the words of Marvin Gaye, “Let’s Get It On!”