Coach Saban really has probably been my biggest mentor as a coach," Dantonio said of the man he will coach against Jan. 1 when his Spartans take on Alabama in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla.
"And I probably sit here as a head coach because of him bringing me here. I’m very appreciative of that."
"Because we have a young team, we've been a little inconsistent," Saban said. "You've got to be able to overcome adversity, and sometimes when you have older, mature players and great leadership on your team, like we did a year ago, you sort of manage those things a little better.
"This team has learned and grown, and I've been proud of the way they've played, even though we didn't finish the last game like we liked. I thought we played really well, especially in the first half."
Senior linebacker Greg Jones said he did not feel any disappointment in regards to playing in a bowl game without the BCS label. Instead, Jones said he is excited to have an opportunity to take on the defending national champion Crimson Tide.
"Like most guys, we want to be playing in a big-time game at the end of the year, and we got Alabama," Jones said.
"I feel like that’s pretty good."
The Tide’s four placements on the team were behind only Florida, with five, and tied with Arkansas and Tennessee for second-most in the conference.
A quick glance at the numbers Deion Belue posted at cornerback in his first season at Northeast Mississippi Community College suggest the former Alabama signee didn't exactly set himself apart.
He made just 13 tackles all season. He didn't intercept a pass, and broke up only two.
Don't let numbers fool you, Tigers coach Ricky Smither said.
"He had a great year, it's just that people didn't want to throw to his side," Smither said. "The other starting corner across from him had eight or nine interceptions, and he can play, too. I don't know if it was Deion's reputation from high school or what, but quarterbacks didn't seem to want anything to do with him."
"Urban Meyer has done a fantastic job at the University of Florida, probably unmatched in college football what he's accomplished there," Saban said of the coach who won two national championships in six seasons."
"Urban is great for the college football game. He's a good friend. We certainly wish him well. ... His work ethic and the quality he has put on the field year in and year out is probably unmatched in college football, which is a tremendous tribute to the job he did there."