Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo started off one of his news conferences last week by saying, "It's a great week to be a Spartan." He was underselling things.
This might be the greatest time ever to be a Spartans supporter. Right now, Michigan State is unparalleled when it comes to the two biggest sports in college athletics: football and men's basketball.
Mark Dantonio's football team is the No. 3 seed in the College Football Playoff, where it will play No. 2 Alabama on New Year's Eve in a national semifinal. Izzo's basketball squad is No. 1 in the polls for just the fourth time in school history and is one win away from tying the best start (12-0) in program lore.
Put quite simply, no school has a better football-men's basketball combo right now than the green and white.
"We've got it going right now in East Lansing," athletic director Mark Hollis said, minutes after Michigan State beat Iowa in the Big Ten football championship game.
Only six schools are ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 in both football and men's basketball. Oklahoma, which also has its football team in the playoff and was ranked No. 7 last week in men's basketball, is offering a challenge to the Spartans' double dip of domination. But Michigan State is the only school with a streak of four straight wins in football bowl games and four straight NCAA tournament Sweet 16 appearances.
"We feel we have the right coaches, a great president and great fan bases," Hollis said. "And our student-athletes have a relationship with their coaches that's just unbelievable."
Few schools have a more symbiotic relationship between their two biggest sports.
Izzo and Dantonio are close friends who spend time talking about their respective teams. Izzo spoke at a pregame pep rally outside of Lucas Oil Stadium before Dantonio's Spartans played in the Big Ten title game. He said last week that he's looking into whether he can take the basketball team to AT&T Stadium to cheer on the football team in the semifinal. Izzo's team opens Big Ten play at Iowa on Dec. 29 and plays at Minnesota on Jan. 2, so the timing is tough. But he thinks it might be worthwhile.
"We think we can maybe learn from what they’re doing," Izzo said. "And seeing what we’ve done, [we can] figure that we're both kind of walking in similar territory. ...
"Seeing your counterparts accomplish great things is a benefit to you. It's a way for our players to look at what they have to do to accomplish their goals."
In March, Izzo spoke about a dream he has: The Spartans winning national titles in football and basketball in the same season. The football team is two wins away from making the first part of that dream a reality. The basketball team, which honored its 2000 NCAA champions over the weekend, will be one of the favorites to cut down the nets in April.
Izzo has become synonymous with Final Fours. Dantonio has his team in its first field of four. No championship dream seems too lofty these days in East Lansing.
"We enter every season with these expectations," Hollis said after the Big Ten title game victory. "When you have the conclusion end up this way, it demonstrates that it's not just lip service."