There are a lot of things to like about Mark Dantonio as Michigan State's football coach.
His team plays with strong fundamentals. The Spartans' basic schemes both offensively and defensively are based on sound principles. Yet, Dantonio is, at times, a daring gambler who is not afraid to make a play call.
When State gets players in its program, they generally improve year-to-year. And, this is the most important thing, Dantonio doesn't play the traditional MSU coaching card and threaten to leave.
But what Dantonio does best is embrace the Michigan rivalry. Ah, embrace it is too nice a word. He kind of slaps it.
If he is at a coaching clinic and does not like what the Michigan assistant is saying, he comes right out and says so. If a Michigan football player is disrespectful to MSU, he's not afraid to do something like put his hand out in front of him, oh, about 5 feet from the ground mockingly.
Michigan had an excellent season in 2011 and Brady Hoke is a terrific coach. Dantonio's response as quoted by ESPN.com - about as high profile place as you could make such a statement - "We've beat Michigan the last four years. So where's the threat?"
Don't get me wrong. Hoke is doing well at Michigan. But the notion the Spartans are just going to give back this state in football is a mistaken one. The Wolverines will have to take it back. They only made so much progress last season. It was hardly complete.
Michigan always wins on recruiting day, but a couple of MSU's three-star recruits, Jerel Worthy and Kirk Cousins, will be selected early in the NFL Draft.
Michigan lost key parts off its offensive line. MSU's defensive line is a strength. Yes, William Gohlston is still there and 6-7, 280 pounds and real mean on the football field. Andrew Maxwell was a highly-regarded QB coming out of high school and has done nothing to dismiss that idea since coming to MSU. His only issue was being behind Cousins. He will do well.
Michigan State, not the Wolverines, won the division last year. Michigan does not get any extra credit points for MSU's really tight loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.
And so Michigan was in a BCS bowl game and not MSU? What was the more prestigious victory - one over an ACC team or one over a team that played in the SEC title game?
It's not splitting hairs about which program is better entering this season. That why is was a joke Hoke was named Big Ten Coach of the Year over Dantonio last season.
Which team won head-to-head? Which team has accomplished more recently?
While Michigan has made strides, it's anything but a given it will change moving ahead.
Dantonio's comments seemed to indicate the Spartans aren't exactly quaking in their boots at thought of Michigan's uprising.
They shouldn't be. This isn't 2002. It's 2012. A different time for the Spartans and the Wolverines and their rivalry.
One Dantonio, to his credit, isn't shying away from.