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OCTOBER 17th, 2019
MSU’s Dantonio at a crossroads?
And what about UM’s Harbaugh?
By KEITH GAVE
Mark Dantonio might well consider this just another “dumbass question,” but I’m wondering how he’d respond to the growing speculation around college football that his days at Michigan State are numbered.
The winningest coach in Spartans’ football history has five games remaining on the schedule this season – six if his team is lucky enough to beat the three worst teams in its division, finish a lackluster 7-5 again, and qualify for some lower-tier bowl game.
To be fair, as disappointing as MSU has been in three of the past four seasons since Dantonio led the Spartans to the College Football Playoffs, he has probably built enough benevolence to make him immune from being fired. At least for now. But at what point does the guy say enough is enough and walk away with his legacy cemented as the coach who turned around a long-dormant program and returned it to national relevance?
Surely it’s at least in the back of his mind during this bye week after two straight horrific road losses at Ohio State and Wisconsin – with Penn State on the horizon at Spartan Stadium next week. A brutal streak of games against three of the top seven teams in the nation.
Which explains why a lot of smart money says this is the year it comes to an end for Dantonio. And then? Enter Luke Fickell, from Cincinnati via Ohio State – the same path Dantonio took to East Lansing? Again, that’s where the smart money is betting.
Perhaps it’s time. Michigan State’s program has gone way off the tracks since that 12-2 season in 2015.
There have been serious recruiting issues, with the Spartans targeting players of questionable character with checkered pasts in a misguided attempt to hang with the elite programs.
A former assistant, Curtis Blackwell Jr., once the director of college advancement and performance/camp director for the football program, is suing Dantonio and other MSU officials for wrongful dismissal following allegations that he was involved in the coverup of a sexual assault report against three football players. A federal judge has ordered Dantonio to sit for up to seven hours of questioning in a deposition following the football season.
Now some of his top players are heading for the exits. In the past two weeks, four players have entered the transfer portal, including the top two running backs entering the season, Connor Heyward and La’Darius Jefferson.
Together, that’s more than enough for the university’s embattled administration to offer a gentle nudge – with a lovely parting gift of, say, a good chunk of the $4.3 million retention bonus Dantonio is due on Jan. 15?
And as long as we’re asking such “dumbass” questions, what’s Michigan going to do, after all the promise, hope and hype entering Jim Harbaugh’s fifth season, when the Wolverines finish 8-4 again? (And that’s assuming they’ll beat Michigan State Nov. 16 at the Big House.) This isn’t close to what they signed up for when they made Harbaugh one of the nation’s highest-paid coaches.
Stay tuned. This could be an interesting off-season.
The envelope, please.
No. 16 Michigan (5-1) at No. 7 Penn State (6-0), minus 8.5: This is where it always gets ugly for Jim Harbaugh’s team. In the first six games of each of his seasons as head coach, the Wolverines are 26-4. In the second half: 17-11. Based on Michigan’s body of work to date, it’s hard to be optimistic. Prediction: Penn State 24, Michigan 13.
Detroit Lions (2-2-1) vs. Minnesota Vikings (4-2), minus-1: This game opened as a pick ’em, and the sharps jumped on Minnesota, making the Lions underdogs for the third time in three games at Ford Field this season. Maybe they’re right. Statistically, the Vikings are the fourth best team in the NFL right now with the No. 5 offense, the No. 6 defense and the No. 14 special teams heading into Week 7. And quarterback Kirk Cousins has better numbers than Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. Numbers may not lie, but I’m still a buyer with the Lions. Prediction: Lions 23, Vikings 20.
--- ARCHIVES ---
--September 27th, 2019: Hey Commish: Have some balls, eh, and consult players on game changes