SAN DIEGO — The icy stream of lemon-lime Gatorade poured over Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio’s head by linebacker Chris Frey on Thursday night must have felt like getting bathed in the Jordan River.
Dantonio came out of that clothed shower a different man. Before it, he wore the stern look throughout a hard-fought game. After it, though, he couldn’t contain a redemptive smile that spread from ear to ear. And he didn’t seem to try.
No. 16 Michigan State won the Holiday Bowl with a convincing 42-17 win over No. 18 Washington State at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego, giving Dantonio his 100th win with the Spartans. Presented with a cake simply stating “100” in green icing, he handed it off to defensive end Kenny Willekes and took the FOX Sports 1 microphone.
“We’re not done,” he declared, pointing to the crowd of Michigan State fans still in the stands. “We’re just getting started.”
It nearly mirrored the same steely phrase he shared after losing to Michigan in 2007, his first season as Michigan State head coach. Except this time, it felt less like a sharp warning to rivals and more like a “the best is yet to come” reminder without the Frank Sinatra flair.
Michigan State fielded a select few seniors in 2017. The Spartans already rebounded admirably from a 3-9 season the year before. From here, they’ll be expected to get even better. Even those who won’t be around to play anymore found reason to get excited.
“The future’s bright for this team,” said Frey, one of those seniors. “I’m really excited to continue watching this team grow because we have so many young guys that have the ability to be great. And with the work ethic that I know they have showed this offseason and throughout this season, the sky is the limit for this team and everybody on it.”
For the seniors, the reality of seeing their college days end proved tough to swallow. Frey said he didn’t want to take off his jersey. Center Brian Allen, generally stone-faced and emotionless, said there were some tears in the lead-up to the game.
But those with remaining eligibility are already raring to go once again. Cornerback Josiah Scott, ejected for targeting in the second half, stood in the tunnel and proclaimed, “Next year we coming,” on Twitter before the game ended.
Couldn't have asked for a better season with a great team! One year under the belt, now it's time to get back to work. Next year we coming💪🏾
— Josiah Scott (@JosiahScott7) December 29, 2017
After sharing embraces with his fellow seniors, linebacker Joe Bachie took the time to look ahead as well. The winner of the Governor’s Award for team MVP, he still has two more years of college eligibility, and he knows what he wants to accomplish.
“I want to be a Big Ten champion,” he said plainly. “Coach D and his program has been there before, and I want to get back there. I haven’t been there yet, so Indy’s our goal.”
After running back LJ Scott announced that he plans to return for his senior year, 19 of the 22 players who started for Michigan State in the Holiday Bowl are expected back; that includes quarterback Brian Lewerke, every wide receiver and tight end who caught a pass in 2017 and every defensive back on the roster.
That said, attrition seems inevitable. Twenty players have signed with the Spartans in the 2018 class, unofficially putting them over the limit of 85 for next year. And they still plan to land a couple more recruits.
FOX Sports’ Joel Klatt, who put Michigan State 10th in his early rankings for next season, also listed Michigan and Ohio State higher. But he also made sure to note after the game that the Spartans have more Big Ten championships since 2010 than the other two teams combined.
After going from three wins to 10, what’s stopping Michigan State from adding several more wins in 2018? If you ask wide receiver Felton Davis, not much. The Spartans want it all.
“We take ours one [step] at a time,” he said, “so the first one is winning the [Big Ten] East and then the Big Ten championship and then put ourselves into a position to win the national championship.”