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Michigan State's Mark Dantonio claims the Spartans are 'one of the hunted'

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Stanford vs Michigan State
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Jan 1, 2014; Pasadena, CA, USA; Michigan State Spartans linebacker Kyler Elsworth (41) and Tournament of Roses president Scott Jenkins and head coach Mark Dantonio and quarterback Connor Cook (18) celebrate on the podium after Michigan State Spartans beat the Stanford Cardinal 24-20 at the Rose Bowl. (Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports)

Mark Dantonio didn’t want to put his team on too high of a pedestal.

Sure, Michigan State is coming off its best season in school history with a 13-1 record, Big Ten title and the first Rose Bowl crown since 1988, but Dantonio is trying to temper expectations in a league where the Spartans aren’t even the favorite this year.

“First of all, I termed ourselves one of the hunted, so I think that’s important to recognize — not ‘the hunted,'” Dantonio said during Big Ten media day on Monday. “We’re not looking for any entitlement, anybody to put us up there. We’ll get what we earn. Every game will be a challenge, beginning with our first game … We’ve had a knack for winning football games these last couple years, but we’ve also taken a step back at times. It’s important that we understand that we’ve done that.

“We’ve stuck our foot in the ground and driven forward when those things have happened. We found the inches last year, We have to continue to find those inches and gain even more ground because respectability could fly right out the window on us. I understand that. It’s what we’ve done lately that you’re basically judged on. We continue to build our future as we move forward.”

To show how fleeting success can be, Michigan State was picked by Big Ten media to finish second in the East Division behind Ohio State, a team the Spartans beat to capture the conference crown a year ago.

But Dantonio knows credibility comes with consistency. And while the Spartans have won at least 11 games in three of the past four seasons, it also had a 7-6 slipup in 2012.

The Spartans return five players from a defense that ranked in the top three in the four main defensive statistical categories a year ago. Seven players return on offense, including quarterback Connor Cook, who came into his own in the postseason when his performances earned him Big Ten championship game MVP and Rose Bowl offensive MVP.

But more than anything on the field, Dantonio knows his team is going to have to deal with expectations off it. It’s uncharted territory for Dantonio and the Spartans, and while they welcome the newfound respect, they know that they have to take the next step to keep it.

“I think the Big Ten Conference, you’ve always got attention coming your way,” Dantonio said. “It’s what you do with that and how you handle that, so what we’ve tried to talk about, really, is how do we handle success now? We’ve had success, we’ve gotten to a point where we’ve done some special things. What’s our agenda next? How do we handle that success? And that’s going to be really one of the biggest things we’re going to have to deal with this year.

“I think we’re a little bit more of the hunted,” Dantonio added. “That’s a good place to be, but it’s also a very precarious place to be as well.”

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Graham Watson is the editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at dr.saturday@ymail.com or follow her on Twitter!

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