Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, April 28, 2015

Mark Dantonio has Michigan State on a roll. In fact, he may have the best program in the Big Ten.

[ MORE: Watch replay of the Michigan State spring game on BTN2Go ]

Michigan State has won double-digit games in four of the last five seasons, compiling a 53-14 overall record and a 32-8 Big Ten mark since 2010 with league championships in 2010 and 2013. And the Spartans have gone to bowls in each of Dantonio?s eight seasons in East Lansing, winning the last four postseason tilts.

The last two seasons have been high points for MSU, capping the 2013 Big Ten title season with a Rose Bowl win and finishing 2014 with a dramatic Cotton Bowl triumph.

Dantonio, 59, and the Spartans figure to be right in the title mix in 2015. The program capped spring practices on Saturday, tuning up a well-oiled machine that welcomes back lots of talent.

I caught up with Dantonio to get his views on spring drills and beyond.

[ MORE: Get all of our Big Ten spring football coverage ]

Q: What were a few positives from spring drills?
A: We have a lot of guys who have played a lot of football who are back for us. I thought our redshirt freshman class had an outstanding spring. Certain guys who had not played for us, (RB) Madre London and (CB) Vayante Copeland, (DE) Montez Sweat, guys like that ? they will be players for us and you can see that happening.

Q: Any other younger players who caught your eye?
A: Monty Madaris is a guy whose time has come. He?ll be in his second year coming up, a redshirt freshman receiver. DeAnthony Arnett has had a good spring. He is a senior, but we have been waiting for him to breakout. He had seven catches in the spring game. He?s an electric guy when he gets the ball in his hands and he can get vertical. We have newer guys at running back who are getting an identity in (Gerald) Holmes and London. Two bigger, physical backs. They can run and I thought they had good spring games.

Q: What does Connor Cook need to do to take the proverbial next step?
A: He is 24-3 as a starting quarterback. He has great command in the huddle. When you look at the number of snaps he has taken in the course of five years, all the game reps and he probably had 1,000 throws this spring alone ? so he?s extremely experienced. He also has delivered in crunch time. There is no question he has done that. So, the next step would be championship performances. And when things break down around him, he still has to run more himself. He can run. He?s physical, he?s big, he has good athletic ability. He could make 10, 12 yards easily.

Q: What?s it like not having defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi-who left to coach Pitt–around?
A: We miss Pat. He?s a great coach who obviously has his own program now. Everyone has the opportunity to stretch themselves and grow. He will do that within his program. It is business as usual here. We have been together for 11 years on the defensive staff, with the exception of Ron Burton. What we are, what we have done, continues the same attention to deal, the same critique, what we do, how we do it, what we have to do to change the little things but remain foundationally the same. And it helps to have a lot of the same players. So, they are still able to play fast. We will miss Pat. But we hired Mark Snyder from (Texas) A&M (where he was DC). And (co-defensive coordinators Mike) Tressel and (Harlon) Barnett have done an outstanding job this spring along with Coach Burton.

Q: Do you think this is your most talented Michigan State team since you took over?
A: That is a pretty big statement. We are going to find out. On paper, you have to feel like that was a great recruiting class in 2011. Jack Allen, Jack Conklin, Donavon Clark, (Connor) Cook (Aaron) Burbridge, Shilique Calhoun, Joel Heath, (Lawrence) Thomas, guys who are excellent players. But you have to play the game. I am not ready to anoint anyone yet. But I hear that (this is his most talented team) being thrown out there. We are going to play ourselves to that.

Q: When you took over in East Lansing in 2007, could you have envisioned this program being where it is eight years later?
A: Those were the expectations. We had to put a plan in place like everyone else. Because I was here before for six years (as an assistant from 1995-2000), I knew this was a program that if we got things in order and everyone went in the same direction-players, coaches, administration, board of trustees, fans-that great things were possible here. And I knew there was a cycle here. They were successful in the 1960s, Coach (George) Perles had it rolling in the 1980s ? it could happen. That was the plan. It took a plan and a lot belief from different people. This is where we are at now. This is a plan where you move forward. Our players are confident now and there is a lot of excitement in the program and expectations are high, which is what you want.

Q: How is your health since your heart attack in 2010?
A: I have made sure regardless of what is going on at work, I was going to make my health a priority. I condition myself to take care of myself. Try to eat things that are good for you and try to do something every day. I am not running marathons. As much as anything, I just step away from work even if it is going for a jog on the field. You get out, assess where you are at in the day. That may be it as much as anything, trying to do something daily.

Q: How tough will the Big Ten East be?
A: The Big Ten is special as a whole, with Mike Riley being hired at Nebraska and others. We all work hard and have a plan. It is extremely competitive. There is a lot of parity in college football. You see that nationwide. Ohio State kept getting better and better last year. You saw what can happen. When you play your best football in November, great things are possible. We felt that could have happened for us the year before. Credit Ohio State. It is a great side of the conference with great coaching and players. And it will be extremely competitive, so we have to rise up every week and play our best. We have a confidence about us. It can?t be phony. It has to be real. And we need to understand it takes hard work. There is no easy path.

Q: What was your reaction when you heard Jim Harbaugh was being hired at Michigan?
A: Great football coach. We knew they were going to hire a great coach. I just play ?em. There is a lot of excitement in a lot of programs across the country. Right now, we are selling results. And we have to build on it.


About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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