Kirk Cousins and Michigan State are two of the same, and not just because that’s where he went to school.

When Cousins was drafted by the Washington Redskins out of MSU, he wasn’t even the first quarterback selected on his own team. He had to wait behind one of the most high-profile people in sports, Robert Griffin III, for his chance to shine. And when Cousins got his opportunity, he ran with it.

Michigan State had to deal with years of being beat down by traditional B1G powers before Mark Dantonio arrived. But over time, the Spartans became one of the nation’s powerhouse programs.

Nobody knows about that rise more than Cousins, who was there when Dantonio first arrived in East Lansing. Two days before their College Football Playoff semifinal showdown against Alabama, the Players’ Tribune ran a piece by Cousins that chronicled Michigan State’s rise to the college football elite.

In it, Cousins details how blown away he was when Dantonio stepped on to campus for the first time. Amazing was the fact that Dantonio did it the right way, Cousins wrote:

“If you know football, then you know how incredible that is — and how radical. Football’s default culture is one of “win at any cost.” It’s one of machismo, and “battle” metaphors, and cutthroat competition. Coach Dantonio decided that he was going to have a program of good people first, and winners — well, somehow, also, first.”

Cousins went in depth about what MSU seniors Shilique Calhoun and Connor Cook were like as freshmen, and how both of them had star potential. To see them leading the team to new heights, Cousins wrote, is as rewarding as it gets.

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Cousins also mentioned how people have been asking him all month about how Michigan State matches up with Alabama. Here’s what he had to say:

“The truth is, I’m glad we’re playing Alabama on Thursday. And the reason I’m glad is simple: They’re the measuring stick. When we talk about “closing the gap” at Michigan State — Alabama is what we’re closing it to. When freshmen football players walk onto campus in Tuscaloosa, all they know is winning. All they know is a program whose absolute standard is to compete for national championships. And that’s exactly what we’re working toward at Michigan State.”

But, as Cousins wrote, the pinnacle of Michigan State’s rise isn’t necessarily Thursday. He mentioned that Dantonio has built the foundation for long-term success, and opportunities like the Cotton Bowl are going to become the norm for this program.

“When Coach Dantonio and I arrived in ‘07, all we knew was a program that was competing for .500 records. When Shilique and Connor arrived in ‘11, all they knew was a program that was competing for Big Ten Championships. And a few months from now, when that ‘16 class arrives in East Lansing, all they’re going to know is a program that competes for national championships.

“And that starts Thursday night.”