How Michigan State is Changing the College Football Landscape

Michigan State Spartans linebacker Denicos Allen (28) celebrates after a sack during the third quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Spartan Stadium. Spartans beat the Wolverines 29-6. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Michigan State Spartans linebacker Denicos Allen (28) celebrates after a sack during the third quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Spartan Stadium. Spartans beat the Wolverines 29-6. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan offensive tackle and projected first-round NFL draft choice Taylor Lewan stood on the sidelines in Spartan Stadium and watched as “little brother”, a nickname former Michigan running back Mike Hart dubbed the Michigan State Spartans, stormed the field in celebration of MSU’s fifth win in six contests against the Wolverines.  The look of anguish on Lewan’s features matched the bloody and bruised composition of his profile, as Michigan State physically punished its bitter rival from Ann Arbor.

And the beating was vicious.  The Wolverines conceded 7 sacks while only mustering 168 total yards, including a horrendous rushing total of -48.  While bruises heal and pain fades with time, this particular bout of fisticuffs produced internal bleeding for the Michigan program that has nation-wide ramifications.

The Wolverines were not only physically pounded by Michigan State – they were humiliated in the process, as Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio invited over 100 high school recruits to East Lansing to witness the event.  One game generally does not alter the direction of programs, but this wasn’t just any game.

“I’ve got to say, this one feels different,” Josh Helmholdt, the Midwest recruiting analyst for, told the Detroit Free Press.  “For one thing, now it’s five out of six games [that MSU has won], and that’s a powerful thing to sell.  And it drastically affects the season for both teams,” as the Spartans continue their march to the Rose Bowl while Michigan’s BCS bowl dreams are laid to rest.

The difference Helmholdt describes involves a seismic recruiting shift that has restructured the fault lines within the Big Ten conference, and one that has spilled over nationally.

Mark Dantonio wasted no time keeping the momentum churning after MSU’s victory, panning the drying Big Ten recruiting streams.  Cass Tech, a high school in Detroit with a pipeline to the University of Michigan, was abuzz with Mark Dantonio’s post-Michigan victory visit.  Cass Tech defensive coordinator Jermain Crowell tweeted, “Coach Dantonio is one of the coaches who is good for Football!  I’m still a Michigan fan but other teams are working harder and I can see the change.”

Similar results were seen at Detroit King High School, with assistant coach Terel Patrick tweeting, “Coach Dantonio got rock star treatment at King today.  I can see this state swinging one week at a time. #WalmartSparty #GoGreen.”

Sirens of warning should be sounding throughout Ann Arbor.  The program Michigan has unaffectionately termed “little brother” is starting to undergo the metamorphosis of maturity, with developing muscles and a change in voice.  Michigan State, a program that gathers most of its talent from Michigan and Ohio – two states that make up 64% of MSU’s 2014 commitments – is impressing some of Michigan’s very best athletes.

Jayru Campbell is a Class of 2015 elite recruit and dual-threat quarterback from Detroit’s Cass Tech.  His athleticism, size and agility drew the attention of the nation’s very best programs, with Alabama and Notre Dame heavily in pursuit.  The recruiting saga of a player like Campbell ordinarily plays out one of two ways: either selecting a national powerhouse out of state, or following Cass Tech’s long-standing pipeline to the University of Michigan.  But times have changed, and Jayru Campbell spurned Alabama, Notre Dame and Michigan by tracing the trail Dantonio has spent years imprinting, leading to a commitment to Michigan State.

The trail Dantonio has blazed is still new, and overall it compares unfavorably to the historic highway Michigan has enjoyed.  Even now, with all the success Michigan State has earned on the gridiron during the Dantonio era, the Spartans trail the Wolverines on the recruiting front.  Michigan currently sits with the 18th recruiting class in the nation to Michigan State’s 32nd ranking.  But the mere fact a trail exists is a new and important development, and one that has chipped at the foundation of the Michigan program by creating in-roads for other national powers.  While most of the 100 recruits in Spartan Stadium will not choose to play football at Michigan State simply because of the Wolverines’ defeat, they may choose to ultimately drop Michigan from consideration instead, an equally devastating prospect for the maize and blue.

Da’Shawn Hand is the number one high school football player in America for the Class of 2014.  The 6’4”, 250 pound defensive end and Maryland native had long been considered to be a Michigan commitment in everything but name.  That changed on November 14th when Hand selected Alabama to be his future home, a mere 12 days after Michigan’s blowout at the hands of the Spartans.

Hand’s pledge to the Crimson Tide was an unexpected blow for Michigan due to how Hand became interested in the Wolverines in the first place.  Jabrill Peppers, current Michigan commitment and #2 ranked high school football player in America for the Class of 2014, intrigued Hand by pitching the idea of becoming the first top-ranked duo since the dawn of Internet recruiting to sign with the same team.  A relationship once an outlet of power for the University of Michigan has since become a point of vulnerability.  Will Hand now utilize the same tactic and attempt to sway Peppers away from Michigan and toward Tuscaloosa?  The concern is real – Alabama recruited Peppers with gusto prior to his commitment to the Wolverines.

Michigan State’s haymaker to Michigan created woes beyond Da’Shawn Hand and the insecurity of Jabrill Peppers’ commitment.  Elite California safety John “JuJu” Smith cancelled his visit to Michigan four days after the Spartans’ victory.

“JuJu Smith said he thinks Michigan is a great school, but not a fit for him,” reported ESPN recruiting analyst Tom VanHaaren.  “[Smith] cancelled his visit [and] said losses caused them to drop on his list.”

Smith is a top target for Notre Dame and was in attendance for the Fighting Irish’s night victory over USC, and headed back to California extremely impressed.  By cancelling his visit to Michigan Smith’s recruitment has narrowed into a two-way recruiting battle between Notre Dame and the Trojans.

The cheers of the Spartan faithful as they defeated their “big brother” for the fifth time in six years verberated far beyond the confines of Spartan Stadium.  The effects of Michigan’s loss have altered the power structure within the Big Ten, as elite in-state recruits are beginning to sign with the Spartans over the traditional Wolverines.  Additionally, Dantonio’s Michigan State squad has damaged the Michigan brand to the point Alabama and Notre Dame have already seen dividends a mere two weeks after the Spartan conquest, and the long-term shockwaves are still pulsating their destruction toward future Michigan recruiting classes.

Michigan State huffed, puffed, and blew “big brother’s” Big House down, and changed the dynamics of recruiting in the process.  And now the Alabamas, Ohio States and Notre Dames are scavenging the cracking foundation to solidify their own.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, as well as appeared on MSNBC as a sports contributor. In his spare time he takes his NCAA Football ’13 online dynasty way too seriously and alienates those around him by discussing football 24 hours a day. Scott can be reached at 

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  1. As a Spartan, who was not happy with a loss to Notre Dame this year but a fan in other games, I appreciate these thoughts. One game may or may not change the course of a team, but each game means a great deal to the fan. Take a moment to listen to the commentary of an MSU game. We are always treated with as the underdog, the little brother, the lucky ones. It’s okay, I guess…anybody can be a MI fan….It is nice to just hear for once, from an opposing team, “Damn, nice work.” Thanks for that!

  2. By the way it was 6 UM wins in a row before the recent 5 out of 6 for MSU. MSU has won 6 of the last 13 in the series. MSU will not win the recruiting battles of stars because the stars are largely influenced by who offered them. I would rather take a three star athlete that Mark Dantonio likes,coach him up,get him on the field in 2 or 3 years vs a four star recruited by Hoke who comes in and never improves.The star rating system is designed to sell recruiting magazines. They are made by the writers who see the players one or two times. The coaches see them several times,have them come and workout,talk with their teachers,coaches,families. Get a feel for the kid. Mark Dantonio has proven he has a better eye for talent.

    1. Rick, what was Dantonio’s record at MSU in year three? 6-7. So if we’re going to compare Hoke to Dantonio let’s compare apples to apples. Even if Michigan loses to Ohio State and its bowl game, Hoke still has 4 more wins and 4 fewer losses through year three than Dantonio did.

      Hoke’s first recruiting class is sophomores/redshirt freshmen. It’s a little too early to state that he can’t develop his players. Almost 70 percent of his roster is underclassmen. Check back in two years and then we can compare Hoke and Dantonio’s ability to develop players.

  3. By the way Scott, great article with insight that exceeds most writers and so called experts out there. ND must have had some of that same insight when they cancelled the future games with Michigan (which really wasn’t a very long relationship for a so called rivalry anyway) and kept the games and rivalry in place with Michigan State. Looking forward to next years game in East Lansing!

    1. The media loved to glorify the Mich-ND game way too much. If I recall the MSU-ND games have been a better rivalry back and forth. Not just some miracle comeback by denard throwing it up in the air and getting lucky. In the past the away team has seem to won a lot except for the past couple years. Usually a much better game than when ND plays mich.

    2. Have you seen the last 2 recruiting classes. Top 10 both years. Please do not count 2011 as Hoke and Co. Had to patch together what RR had left. Also look at the mess the O and D lines were in when Hoke arrived at Michigan. You expect way to much to soon. And Michigan is ranked 18th because of sure numbers. Hell Tennessee has 31 recruits this year…it’s easy to be number 2 with that many recruits. I also believe that DaShawn Hand was looking at strictly football and not academics when he made his choice. Many programs lose top recruits like Hand…LSU is in danger of Losing Fournette to Bama does that mean they are slipping too. I get tired of writers blowing things WAY out of proportion so they can read their own garbage. On top of that, schools like ND, Michigan, and Stanford have much higher academic standards than Alabama(btw Alabama’s 4 year graduation rate s 38%, so theirs a great academic institution for ya). College football recruiting is cyclical and Alabama is top dog right now. So slow down turbo with the sky is falling crap on Michigan.

    3. So let me get this straight…You think the game with Michigan State is more important to ND than the game with Michigan? You do know that every game between Michigan and ND has been decided by less than 7 points for the last 10 years. Add to that it is their highest pay day of the year with TV income. The contract was not renewed with Michigan because the ACC is making ND play more ACC schools meaning they had to drop other games. Michigan’s contract is the first one that is up.

    1. And Notre Dame beat Michigan State, a team that dominated Michigan. It’s all pretty circular if you look at it that way.

      The problem is Michigan’s loss convinced Smith that it simply wasn’t worth the long flight to Ann Arbor.

  4. So after Michigan dominated the previous 7 games (7-0), MSU managed to flip the script and that is commendable and impressive. What I find hilarious, though, is the insinuation that Michigan is totally done and screwed now, after this 6-1 run by MSU, when over the history of the rivalry, Michigan has ALWAYS resumed its run of dominance after Sparty popped them for a few wins in a row.

    1. Michigan is not “done and screwed.” However, there’s no denying that MSU’s win damaged Michigan’s national brand. It’s already surfaced in the loss of Hand, etc.

      Michigan has more history than MSU and will always be in the picture. But Michigan State is on the verge of becoming a serious threat to Michigan into the future, and that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

    2. You know Johnny, you’re a perfect example, as are some of the other Wolvie posters, of the arrogance and delusion that continues with Michigan fans. Jayru Campbell, being a player for Cass Tech, would have a Michigan offer if the Spartans hadn’t secured him so quickly. Even two years ago, all of Cass Tech’s best committed to Michigan. Michigan’s typical arrogance is always evident when they lose a recruit or potential recruit, is always to say “They never offered”. Laughable! By the way, Bo’s not coming back to life to Coach next year.

  5. This article is pure garbage. Its entire basis revolves around a player (Jayru Campbell) who was never even considered by Michigan. Be it right or wrong, Brady Hoke and company are not looking for dual-threat QBs anymore, and Campbell falls squarely in that arena. So, to say he “spurned” Michigan is completely disingenuous and patently false. He was never offered a scholarship.

    1. I believe there’s some confusion. I never said anywhere in the article that Campbell was offered a scholarship by Michigan because he was not. The “spurned” comment is in reference to the traditional route of Cass Tech players spelled out in the article: Cass Tech players either go out of state or play for Michigan. He spurned ND and Alabama by not accepting their overtures, and he spurned Michigan by staying in-state and going to MSU.

      Michigan State is starting to land elite players, players the likes of which Ohio State, Notre Dame and Michigan land. That should concern you.

      Hopefully that clarifies matters.

  6. This is an example of a writer fabricating news and stoking the fire. Michigan didn’t even offer Campbell…lol.

    1. Getting selected for an at-large BCS spot is basically just a beauty pagent. It has more to do with who can bring the most money to the bowl game (see UM’s BCS selection in 2011) than what the team did on the field. Wisconsin may get selected for an at-large BCS bowl, but that alone won’t be indication that the Badgers are the superior team.

      On the other hand, I also know that Wisconsin has zero chance of going to the Rose Bowl, while MSU can still earn its way there (barring an epic letdown the next two weeks). If it is Rose Bowl or bust for MSU vs staying at home hoping to back into an at-large BCS game like Wisconsin will be doing, I will take MSU’s position every time.

  7. Jayru Cambell was never offered by Michigan and never was going to be! Alabama’s offer was contingent on a personal workout with Saban! Whoever wrote this article is an idiot!

  8. There is also chatter that several recruits from last year are thinking about transferring out of Michigan because they were promised things that didn’t come true.

    1. Jack,

      What’s the “chatter” on our guys? What’s your best assessment on keeping our RB’s and QB’s happy next year?

      1. No, it’s on Michigan Freshman that are pissed because they were promised playing time and are not playing.

  9. Ju Ju Smith would be a nice pick up for this class. But we’re still woefully thin at CBs and DL. BK really needs to end the season on a high note and step up recruiting. We’re falling behind our rivals, not to mention really far behind Bama and the SEC (even the ACC in some cases like Miami and FSU, two teams ND will be playing shortly!)

    1. I’m confused: “We’re falling behind our rivals…” Just what rivals are we falling behind?

      Let me stipulate when Haden
      makes the kind of hire one would expect, USC will
      beginning in the 2015 recruiting classes, be in the top 5 or hovering nearby.

      That’s our rival SC.

      But otherwise, I’m confused by your statement.

      1. Since ND didn’t start playing football yesterday and has and will continue to play a national schedule, regardless of pseudo-ACC affiliation, I continue to look at Michigan and USC as rivals, but I also consider any top program as a rival, assuming you want ND to be at that level some day. But even if you want to look only at our future ACC partners as rivals, we’re already well behind FSU and Miami in recruiting. Hope that makes my point clearer. I appreciate the chance to clarify my point.

  10. If anyone thinks one game decides a recruit’s future, think again. These kids are focused on one of two things – 1) Excellent education or 2) Preparation for the NFL.

    Did ND beating MSU alter their recruiting? Doubt it. Just as I doubt ND’s loss to Pitt, or USC’s loss to ND and win vs Stanford, drastically alters the landscape.

    Now, if we want to talk about BCS or National Title game wins, then yes. That has the ability to drastically help recruiting. Get over the Pitt loss and realize this team was doomed to a second tier bowl when Golson was suspended.

    Now, we’re playing for experience and setting up next year.

    1. As the Rivals recruiting expert said, this wasn’t just one game — it’s been five wins out of six years. It’s been enough to get recruits to start to doubt the Michigan program, and that kind of doubt is what gets recruits to look elsewhere.

      1. It doesn’t change the fact that if a recruit is looking at academics, they don’t give a crap about who won the game. Michigan is a far better school academically and no amount of sports trivia will change that.

      2. “IF a recruit is looking at academics” you say ….. well, the void at UM between the academics and the athletic program is huge !!!. Not as much true at Northwestern, Stanford, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, etc. Point is, UM isn’t getting the student/athletes they should be. Look at last years regional academic all americans list. MSU had four including the QB, UM had one.

    2. The current generation/era of Michigan Man Football:

      8 of 9 Losses to tOSU.
      5 of 6 Losses to Mich State.
      3 of 4 Losses to Wisconsin.
      4 Losses in a row to Penn State.

      In the 12.5 years of the 2000 era, Michigan Football:
      Has 53 losses.
      Has not won a Big Ten title in 9 years.
      Has not won the combination of a Big Ten title and bowl game in 13 years.

      Michigan has not had a signature road win in 7 seasons (2006 @ ND).

      Brady Hoax has a record playing away from Michigan Stadium of 7-12.

      Michigan was listed as an (2.5 point) underdog to an 0-5 Northwestern team for the first time in the school’s 134 year history.

      Brady Hoax has no conference titles in 10 seasons as a head coach for any team.

      Brady Hoax is 15-45 as a head coach vs. teams with 6 or more wins at Ball State, SDSU and UM.

      In the past 65 years (going back to 1948), Michigan has ½ of a national championship.

      It appears this video of Brady talking to a recruit was very prophetic:

      1. Interesting–

        Looking back on ND vs. Mich –
        ( if IF’s and BUT’s were candy and nuts–we would all be fat and jolly)
        a saying my wife says a lot–
        ( and she is not fat)

        However, if ND would not have had the turnovers ND would not have lost that game.
        Mich. barely beat a 1/2 assed Conn. team which gave it up in the 4rth quarter–
        AKRON for Heaven’s Sake almost beat them ( and I question the officials there)
        they –well are playing a style of football more tentative than ND right now.
        IF the game were to be held today, then ND would win–I believe that. BUT if IF’s and BUT’s were candy–( you get the idea)
        Hail to the Victors–
        Congrats Sparty

        Why is this on an ND site??
        Things ARE changing –and like the STATE OF ISRAEL-we have to watch the few allies we have–and keep very close eye on the camps of those who hate us. ( and there are many for both ND AND Israel)

        Perhaps not a great parallel–but not a bad one either.

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