Michigan State University was well represented in more ways than one at the annual Big Ten Media Days in Chicago.
While an impressed media picked Michigan State to finish third in the conference for 2009, perhaps the most intriguing recognition for MSU football was having Greg Jones named the Big Ten preseason defensive player of the year—the first Spartan to take such an honor since Charles Rogers in 2002.
Though it is basically a dressed-up prediction for Jones to have continued success, it shows that many people have high expectations for Jones and high impressions of the junior linebacker's talent.
Jones led the 2008 Spartans in tackles (127) as the first Spartan since Eric Smith in 2005 to record over 100. Leading the Spartans in tackles 11 of 13 games, Jones ranked third in the conference and 17th nationally. His premier performance at the Green and White game last spring also lends support for the All-American candidate to continue to rise.
All in all, it is still a heck of a recognition, considering some of the NFL's current rising stars have held these same recognitions at Media Days' past.
Now, not only has Mark Dantonio's increasing success been featured as the face of MSU football, so too are the players being featured among the nation's best.
Aside from Javon Ringer's stellar contribution in a green and white jersey, no other player has exemplified MSU's recent rise out of college football's lower echelons more than Greg Jones.
Jones' crushing hits on league running backs have obviously drawn eyes. But Jones also draws precisely what Dantonio was hired to bring into Spartan Stadium—a tough, athletic, business-oriented team-player who flat-out makes plays consistently.
What else could you ask for?
"Greg's shown great leadership the last two years, and he's shown that on the field," Dantonio said.
Jones is part of that "new culture" that Dantonio spoke of so often when he returned to East Lansing as the newest head coach. And that new culture has allowed the media to take a look at MSU and say, "They are pretty good."
So much so, that picking MSU to come in third behind national powerhouses Ohio State and Penn State is not a leap of faith for some nonobjective writer. The proof is panning out. MSU was picked such by a panel of 350 media members.
Still, Dantonio insists that playing better in big games is a must.
"We need to play up when we play these marquee games, where more than just winning and losing is riding on that," he said. "A little bit more of the national attention may be riding on it...We have to develop a certain amount of confidence to play at that level."
If Dantonio's plans and players continue to pan out, MSU will soon be predicted to come in even higher than third.