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The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Mark Dantonio was an assistant coach at Michigan State in 1998, the last time an unranked Spartan team traveled to face a No.1-ranked Ohio State squad.

Result: Michigan State 28, Ohio State 24 in a huge Big Ten upset. The Spartan defense was key in that game, as it may be Saturday when Michigan State travels to Columbus for the first time with Dantonio as its head coach.

“I would use it as a motivational tool in the fact that you can get things done,” Dantonio said at his weekly press conference Monday. “We were 28-point underdogs at that time. ... We had five sacks. We came up with some turnovers, and didn’t turn it over. But these are different football teams and it’s a different time.”

Jim Tressel is now the Ohio State coach, and Dantonio — one of his former assistants and a longtime friend — knows him well. Dantonio expects the Buckeyes to be well-prepared and on guard against a potential upset.

“Coach Tressel is very, very good at not letting his players get too far ahead of themselves,” Dantonio said. “He keeps them current and focused on the task at hand.”

Michigan State (5-2, 1-2 Big Ten) is coming off one of its better all-around performances this season, a 52-27 victory over Indiana. Ohio State (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) dominated Kent State and grabbed the top spot in The Associated Press poll after LSU and California, ranked 1-2 entering last week, both lost.

The Buckeyes haven’t allowed enough points to be upset this season. They have the nation’s stingiest defense, allowing just 6.6 points per game.

Michigan State has the Big Ten’s highest-scoring offense at 36.9 points per game. Ohio State is not far off that pace at 35.7 points per contest.

Michigan State is 3-13-1 all-time against teams ranked No. 1 in the AP poll. Two of those three wins came against Ohio State.

In 1998, Dantonio was a defensive assistant under Nick Saban, then Michigan State’s head coach. The Spartans were 4-4 headed into Columbus and Ohio State was 8-0.

The Buckeyes led 24-9 in the third quarter. But Bill Burke quarterbacked the Spartans to 19 straight points, Julian Peterson led a fired-up defense and Renaldo Hill made a goal-line interception late in the game to seal the victory.

It was Michigan State’s first victory over a No. 1 team since the Spartans upset Michigan 28-27 in 1990.

In 1974, unranked Michigan State upset No. 1 Ohio State at Spartan Stadium, 16-13. Levi Jackson’s 88-yard touchdown run was the highlight.

But there’s a flip side. Michigan State has lost to No.1-ranked Ohio State teams four times, including a 38-7 defeat in East Lansing last season.

“It’s something you want to embrace,” Spartans quarterback Brian Hoyer said of another chance at playing a No. 1-ranked team. “It’s exciting, it’s a great challenge and it’s also a privilege.”

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