Can Dantonio survive the mess at Michigan State?

Life in East Lansing just keeps getting messier and messier for Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio.

Nine Spartans football players were charged on Wednesday with misdemeanor assault and conspiracy following a campus dormitory brawl on Nov. 22. All of the players were charged with conspiracy to commit assault and battery.

The dispute reportedly began when a few football players and members of the Iota Phi Theta fraternity had an altercation at a nightclub on Nov. 21. The next night, after State’s awards banquet, a group of players allegedly visited the fraternity’s hall where the attacks repoattartedly occurred. Some witnesses have said some players were wearing ski masks; others refuted that claim.

What we know for sure is that Dantonio has suspended 11 players involved in the incident (after eight were originally suspended) and had already dismissed running back Glenn Winston and defensive back Roderick Jenrette, both of whom were also charged.

The 11 players — starters B.J. Cunningham, Mark Dell and Chris L. Rucker and reserves Ashton Leggett, Fred Smith, Brynden Trawick, Ishmyl Johnson, Jamiihr Williams, Chris D. Rucker, J'Michael Deane and Donald Spencer — will not take part in any Alamo Bowl activities. The three additional suspensions were made when Dantonio became aware of those players’ participation in the dispute.

It has not been ruled out that more charges could be filed as the investigation continues.

Add in the two running backs, Andre Anderson and Caulton Ray, who were already dismissed from the team at midseason, and that makes 15 scholarship players gone from the program. Something can’t be right with the water in East Lansing, right?

Where does Dantonio go from here? How will these suspensions affect the MSU program as the team prepares for its Alamo Bowl game against Texas Tech on Jan. 2?

From an immediacy standpoint, Dantonio will be looking at an entirely new depth chart for the game against the Red Raiders. Other than senior Blair White, who’s going to catch the ball for Michigan State? Without any targets for Kirk Cousins, will freshman running backs Larry Caper and Edwin Baker have to carry the load?

Dantonio has always been a well-respected coach, and his previous tenure in East Lansing with Nick Saban made him a perfect choice for the head job at MSU when he was hired before the 2007 season.

Following a very successful defensive coordinating stint at Ohio State, Dantonio received his first head coaching job at Cincinnati, where the Bearcats earned two bowl-game appearances under his leadership. While going 18-17 at Cincy doesn’t seem like much, keep in mind that this was the pre-Brian Kelly Cincinnati. One could argue that Dantonio’s success helped pave the way for Kelly to take the UC program to its greatest heights.

At Michigan State, Dantonio has compiled a 22-16 record in three seasons — certainly a respectable mark. However, his 13-11 conference record is alarming in that MSU has as much talent as program in the Big Ten, save for Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.

In his first season, his team lost all of its games by seven points or less. A sign of a developing program is to improve on those “close but no cigar” losses. In 2008, the Spartans did finish the season 9-4, but the team lost all of its biggest games: Cal, Ohio State, Penn State and Georgia. Is Michigan considered a big game anymore? Just kidding, Wolverines fans.

This year, the team lost to Central Michigan and Minnesota and was blown out by Penn State at home. Still, behind a young quarterback, a depleted backfield and off-the-field issues, maybe 6-6 is all anyone could have expected.

By no means am I calling for Dantonio’s head. Rather, I expected more of a consistent program in the third year of his tenure. Michigan State can get talent — that’s not a problem -- but can the program ever find a coach to fully maximize it and make the school a consistent presence in the Big Ten?

Dantonio will get a chance to win his first bowl game in three tries against Texas Tech. Of course, he’ll have his hands full trying to win a shootout — because that’s what it’s going to take to beat the Red Raiders.

Even more important, is Dantonio losing control of the MSU program? I know not every recruit works out — both on the field and off of the field. And I know coaches can’t be babysitters every minute of the day. But Michigan State football has been in the news far too much this season — for all of the wrong reasons.

The one thing Dantonio does have control of is making sure every available scholarship player gives it his all in the Alamo Bowl, especially knowing that the team is short-handed. Have the players fully bought into his system? I think the way the Spartans start the ballgame will show just how focused they were in their game preparation.

There’s no question Dantonio still has a tough job ahead of him.

At the very least, one would think he has to be counting his blessings that his Spartans beat Michigan for the second year in a row — and thankful that Rich Rodriguez is on an even hotter seat in Ann Arbor.

Dave Miller is the Web Manager of the National Football Post. You can follow him on Twitter at Miller_Dave.

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