National Signing Day has come and gone. It is a spec in the rear view mirror. The NFL Draft is on the horizon, and NFL Pro Days are occurring all over the country.
Every college program has the same goal: win a National Championship.
The ups and downs of a program are like a roller coaster. Every program has to weather storms every now and then. Yet, the main focus is to regain control of the ship, and dominate the college football landscape for years.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has instilled a winning culture in East Lansing. The Spartans have progressed over time, winning the 100th Rose Bowl game and the Cotton Bowl the following season. Last season they finished third in the nation and earned the right to play in the College Football Playoff..
Right now, Michigan State is starting to put their own stranglehold on college football – the final objective of winning a National Championship is all that is needed to complete the process.
Not only do the Spartans dominate on the collegiate level, but Dantonio has been able to produce NFL caliber players.
Ten former Michigan State players participated in the 2016 NFL playoffs. Denver Broncos wide receiver Bennie Fowler became a world champion, snatching Peyton Manning’s last pass ever on a two-point conversion in Super Bowl 50.
The Washington Redskins used their franchise tag on quarterback Kirk Cousins this past offseason, as Cousins solidified himself as the starting man under center for the Skins.
After a breakout year in 2015, Cousins signed the deal earning $19.95 million of guaranteed money.
This year, MSU will have their Pro Day on March 16. A handful of Spartans will be carefully watched by NFL scouts – including but not limited to: Connor Cook, Aaron Burbridge, Jack Conklin, Jack Allen, Shilique Calhoun, RJ Williamson, and Macgarrett Kings Jr.
Nonetheless, the majority of offseason chatter has occurred down the road in Ann Arbor. As always, the major headlines deal with the Big Blue.
But the question still remains – why?
According to NFLDraftscout.com, out of the eleven players who could be drafted from Michigan, only two – Willie Henry, Graham Glasgow – are projected to be drafted by an NFL team. Assuming they will go in the mid rounds of the draft.
This year Michigan landed the top recruit in the country in five-star recruit Rashan Gary. The 6’4” 287-pound defensive tackle will be wearing maize and blue for the next three seasons.
Coach Jim Harbaugh landed 28 commits, 15 of those are in the ESPN 300. He swiped the lone five-star recruit in Gary, 17 four-star recruits, and 10 three-star recruits.
However, not every top recruit has a storybook career or produce at a high level in the NFL.
Michigan has endured a rough patch for years now. The Wolverines have not won a National Championship since 1997. Their last Rose Bowl victory was that same year.
It has not been any better for the Wolverines in rivalry games. Michigan State and Ohio State have dominated Michigan during this stretch. The Spartans have claimed the Paul Bunyan Trophy seven times out of the last eight years, and Ohio State has not stepped off the gas pedal for nearly two decades.
Since 2001, Ohio State is 12-2 against Michigan. It would be 13-2, but due to NCAA violations the 2010 victory for the Buckeyes was vacated.
It has been a long treacherous road on the gridiron for Michigan, and the NFL has not been pleasant to former Wolverines in recent years either.
Over the last five years, six Big Ten Schools have produced more draft picks than Michigan. Furthermore, there have only been 13 former Wolverines to be drafted in the NFL the past five years.
Gary has an extraordinary amount of pressure on his shoulders since he is carrying all Wolverine alumni, and fans. Also,not every top recruit becomes the star they are projected to be.
The first ESPN number one recruit was safety Myron Rolle in 2006. Rolle attended Florida State for three seasons before leaving to study at Oxford. Rolle was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship and studied for a year in England. In 2010, the Sporting News considered Rolle as the second smartest athlete behind Craig Breslow.
Nevertheless, a glamorous NFL career did not occur. During Rolle’s tenure with the Noles, Florida State played in the Emerald Bowl, Music City Bowl, and the Champs Sports Bowl. Not necessarily the type of post-season play typical for a Florida State team.
After Rolle, Joe McKnight blew everyone away during high school. McKnight went to Southern California expected to be the next Reggie Bush, but his best did not occur until his junior year in 2009. McKnight rushed for 1,014 yards and eight touchdowns.
This year 61 players in the FBS (I-A) gained more rushing yards than McKnight did in his junior campaign.
Quarterbacks Keenan Reynolds (Navy) and Greg Ward Jr. (Houston) notched 20 plus scores this season alone. Reynolds scored 24 times, and Ward scored in 21 times in the 2015 campaign.
Out of Goodpasture Christian High School, Reynolds had a 68-scout grade, and was considered a two-star recruit.
Before breaking multiple rushing records, and eventually being snubbed out of a trip to go to New York City for the Heisman Trophy presentation.
Ward Jr. was a three-star recruit as a quarterback by ESPN, Rivals, Scout, and 247Sports. On the flip side he played wide receiver in the Houston offense as a sophomore.
Arguably the biggest bust was USC quarterback, Matt Barkley. As a freshman Barkley threw 14 interceptions only to follow that up in his second year with 12.
Barkley’s junior campaign was considered his breakout year as the quarterback notched 39 passing touchdowns compared to only seven picks.
Entering his senior year, many projected Barkley to win the Heisman Trophy and lead the preseason No. 1 USC Trojans to the National Title game. Nevertheless, Barkley and the Trojans stumbled in conference play,losing to Stanford, Oregon, and Arizona. In addition, USC lost to rivals UCLA, and Notre Dame – all ingredients to a heartbreaking year.
Barkley threw 15 picks and did not get any help from his offensive line. The Trojans limped their way into the Sun Bowl, with Barkley unable to play due to a shoulder injury when the senior was knocked out against UCLA the week prior,thus ending his collegiate career.
Projected as the first overall pick in the NFL Draft, Barkley fell to pick number 98. The Philadelphia Eagles selected the former superstar in round 4, eventually being traded to the Arizona Cardinals after two seasons with the Eagles.
The age old saying: ‘it is not how you start, it is how you finish’ has been a cliche in the world of sports for years. For Michigan State, that saying is the backbone to much of the success. For the past few years Dantonio, and his squad have finished amongst the best in the country, and continue to build off each season progressing towards etching themselves as a juggernaut in college football.