EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio knows what the Notre Dame rivalry has meant to the Spartans and what a win over the Fighting Irish would mean on Saturday night.
A home-and-home series with Notre Dame put Michigan State football on the map 60 years ago and paved the way for Big Ten membership. Another victory over the Irish (1-1) would offer a measure of validation for this year's Spartans (2-0).
"We're very excited about it,'' Dantonio said Tuesday. "It means so much to so many people here. It should be very emotional.''
Michigan State hasn't played its best football, especially on defense, but a win over Notre Dame could help reverse the mindset of a year ago: a 6-7 season with five losses by eight points or less, including a 33-30 loss to the Irish.
Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins threw a late interception in that game when his team was positioned for a game-winning touchdown or, at worst, a tying field goal. And cornerback Chris Rucker dropped an easy interception that could have protected a late lead.
"Kirk hasn't been talking about it,'' Dantonio said. "He knows you can't change the past.''
After Saturday's 30-17 win over Florida Atlantic, Rucker said the Spartans thought they gave the Notre Dame game away last September, ending their record six-game winning streak in South Bend.
"They're close games, almost every one of them,'' Dantonio said. "They recruit a lot of the players we recruit. And there's parity in college football today. When we were there last year, after winning six in a row, I'm sure it was very emotional for them, too.''
Dantonio, a Notre Dame fan as a youth, was 5-0 against the Irish from 1997-2001 as a Michigan State assistant and was 2-0 in the series as a head coach until last year's game. But he remembered another loss from his days as a South Carolina defensive back, when Joe Montana led a late comeback.
"Our players don't feel a hatred for Notre Dame, more of a respect in an intense rivalry,'' Dantonio said. "Looking back, Notre Dame was very involved in us getting into the Big Ten. They made us a legitimate national team.''
Though the Spartans are relatively healthy this week, Dantonio said reserve tight end Garrett Celek will be lost for the season if he decides to have shoulder surgery. If not, he will be sidelined at least a month.
Running back Larry Caper, listed as a co-starter, should make his first appearance of the year after recovering from a hand injury.
Caper had two touchdowns against the Irish last year but will have plenty of competition for carries this season. Fellow sophomore Edwin Baker is rushing for 150 yards per game and 9.4 yards per carry. Freshman Le'Veon Bell is averaging 95 yards per game and 9.5 yards per carry. Each has three touchdowns.
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