COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — While taking a stroll through the Michigan State football complex earlier this week, Mark Dantonio took a long look at mementos from the great teams he has coached over the past nine years.
“It just sort of hit me a little bit, where we are right now relative to where we’ve been,” he said.
The Spartans have finished in the Top 25 in six of the last nine years. They went 87-33 over that span, won four straight bowl games and three Big Ten championships.
That’s where they’ve been. Where they are now is nothing less than confounding.
Michigan State (2-4, 0-3) will bring a four-game losing streak into Saturday night’s game at Maryland (4-2, 1-2). The four defeats match the number of losses the Spartans absorbed in the last two years combined.
“Bad things are going to happen. That’s going to be a part of your life,” Dantonio said. “People have to handle problems. So that’s our mindset. That’s what we have to do, and that’s what we will do.”
Unless they can rebound with gusto, the Spartans’ run of nine straight bowl appearances will end.
“It’s something we’ve done every year,” Dantonio said. “We’ve sort of taken it for granted. I don’t think you can obviously take things for granted right now. We’re a 2-4 football team.”
Maryland first-year coach DJ Durkin is attempting to build the sort of dynasty Michigan State enjoyed through last season. He was headed in the right direction, winning his first four games, before a two-game skid pushed the Terrapins back to reality.
“We’re coming off of two games that didn’t turn out the way we wanted them to,” Durkin said. “We have to bounce back. This is how you find out what you’re made of.”
Some other things to know about the matchup between Michigan State and Maryland:
QUARTERBACK ISSUES: Dantonio could play three different quarterbacks against the Terrapins. Or, he might choose one and stick with him. Senior Tyler O’Connor was replaced as the starter last week by redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke. Both of them played in a 54-40 home loss to Northwestern. Damion Terry is also in the mix for Saturday. Maryland will start Perry Hills if he’s recovered from a shoulder injury. He missed the second half of a loss to Penn State and watched from the sideline as true freshman Tyrrell Pigrome struggled last week in a 31-10 drubbing by Minnesota.
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: Former Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins can’t believe what’s happening to the football program at his alma mater. “It’s been a challenge this year, but that happens,” said Cousins, now the starter for the Washington Redskins. “I lost three of my first four games as a starting quarterback at Michigan State,” he said. “I’ve always been a believer of the fact that tough times don’t last, tough people do. They’ll be all right, they’ll regroup, get it together.”
NO DEFENSE: The Spartans are allowing 30 points and 378 yards per game. That’s the most obvious explanation for the 2-4 start. “You have to look at everything. That’s what we’ve done,” Dantonio said. “We’ll look at our leadership on the field, how we do things structurally, how we do things on the sideline. We’ll look at it all and try and get everything in order.”
LIKELY IFFY: Maryland’s standout kick returner and defensive back Will Likely hurt his knee against Minnesota and is questionable for Saturday. Likely has returned four punts for touchdowns over his career. In Maryland’s 37-15 loss to Michigan State in 2014, he amassed a school-record 228 yards in kickoff returns. He’s tough on defense, too — the 5-foot-7 senior had 14 tackles on Sept. 17 in a win over Central Florida.
LIGHTS ON: This will be the Spartans’ third night game on the road. It’s Maryland’s first at home under the lights, and a huge crowd is expected. “The night game is an interesting thing in college football. There’s usually a pretty good atmosphere,” Durkin said. “At night, the fans are usually a little more excited and into the game. Being at home for a night game is great.”
AP college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org
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