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For any university to have powerhouse programs in both Football and basketball is rarefied air to say the least. At Michigan State University, they are safely among the very few that can say they have championship-contending programs in both high-profile collegiate sports.
MSU basketball head coach Tom Izzo has sent his teams to the NCAA Men's Tournament in 19 straight seasons, the third longest active streak in Division-I. In that stretch includes seven Final Fours and an national title in 2000.
The football team and head coach Mark Dantonio are relatively new to the national spotlight but they have announced their presence over the last handful of seasons. Five of the last six seasons they have double-digit wins, first time any team in the Big Ten has accomplished that feat while also capturing three Big Ten titles. Their nine straight bowl appearances is longest in school history, second in the Big Ten to Wisconsin's 14 years and is 12th longest active streak in Division-I football.
The stakes and standards have risen for Michigan State on the gridiron and on the hardwood. The overall goal of winning a national championship is much more in reach than it has been in recent years. The 2015-16 season however could not have ended more frustrating for Spartan fans, with the football team getting waxed in the College Football Playoff semifinals, while the basketball squad exited in the first round in what may go down as one of the biggest upsets in tournament history.
So the seasons as a whole were another success for MSU but because each team had a great shot at taking it to the next level, there is some disappointment around East Lansing. Both teams faced resiliency at some point during the season; both were led by one focal senior superstar with a professional playing career; both were perceived as legitimate title contenders in some capacity and disappointed in very different ways.
The biggest thing though? Both will be right back in the middle of it starting next year. There will be no rebuilding in Sparta.
It's already been well-documented how Mark Dantonio has been able to recruit 'average' to 'solid' high school prospects and make them into four- or even five-star players in some instances and eventually NFL-ready players. Now, Dantonio feels and recognizes that he might have his best recruiting class in his tenth season as the head man at MSU.
Signing day video recap (comments from @DantonioMark, @MSUTSamuel, @CoachSalemMSU, @Coach_Staten) - https://t.co/AelqsHRXK7
— Spartan Football (@MSU_Football) February 3, 2016
It should be known that in the last four or five seasons alone, Michigan State has ranked in the top 40 of recruiting classes. Given the success they have had in that span, it speaks highly to Dantonio and his staff and their ability to coach, develop, and get the most out of his players.
Right down the street at the Breslin Center, Izzo has had a few top 15 classes sprinkled in over the years but by and large, his classes typically ranked anywhere between 20-40, some as low as in the 70s even. Not only is he in line to have his best recruiting class ever, but it ranks in the top 3 AND can still get even better.
Izzo earlier this week even noted that his 2016-17 team on paper has some serious potential. "I think it has a chance to be, yeah," Izzo said. "I do think it has a chance to be, because I think there's Talent at different positions."
While he cannot directly speak to those who have made hard commits to MSU basketball, he knows that it is always nice to have talent and depth in as many positions on the floor as possible. However, he knows just as much as any coach in college basketball that talent and depth alone is not enough.
"Remember, talent doesn't win championships, talent doesn't win games," Izzo said. "It helps them, it just depends on attitudes, it depends on leadership, it depends on a lot of things that are the intangibles of this thing."
Coach Dantonio would be the first one to attest to that as well. The two have earned a reputation over the years of being able to get the most out of their players when it matters most and also being able to assume the role of an underdog when being overlooked.
Now that Michigan State is recognized nationally in both football and basketball and the opportunity is there to continue trending in that direction, it is time for the dynamic duo of Izzo and Dantonio to bring a title to East Lansing. Yes, both respective coaches are losing some big names and contributors to their respective teams.
Both are also bringing in some big-name talent on paper that will allow them to stay on the fast track to keep winning at a high level and as a dangerous threat to win a title.