EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- The day Mark Dantonio was introduced as Michigan State's head coach, he wore the 2002 national championship ring he earned as Ohio State's defensive coordinator.
Dantonio's Ohio roots run deep. So do his ties with Jim Tressel, the Buckeyes' head coach. It's one of several coaching staff connections that add a little more spice to Saturday's Big Ten showdown between No. 20 Michigan State (6-1, 3-0) and No. 12 Ohio State (6-1, 3-0) at Spartan Stadium.
The winner will keep at least a share of the Big Ten lead. Bragging rights also are on the line between the two longtime friends who first coached together in the early 1980s and their interconnected coaching staffs.
Dantonio, in his second season as Michigan State's head coach, is looking for his first win against Tressel and the Buckeyes.
"In terms of playing against Coach Tress, this is the fourth time ... 0-3," said Dantonio, who lost 24-17 to the then-No. 1 Buckeyes last season and also lost twice while head coach at Cincinnati. "You learn a little something more every year."
For the first time in a head-to-head matchup, Dantonio gets to play Tressel in his home stadium. That could give the Spartans an advantage they'll need against the more experienced and talented Buckeyes.
Dantonio -- a native of Zanesville, Ohio -- first coached with Tressel when both were assistants at Ohio State under Earle Bruce.
When Tressel became coach at Division I-AA Youngstown State before the 1986 season, Dantonio went with him and stayed for five years. Tressel has said he and Dantonio grew up together in the coaching world.
Tressel became Ohio State's coach before the 2001 season and lured Dantonio away from Michigan State, where he had been an assistant under Nick Saban and Bobby Williams. Dantonio was the defensive coordinator on the Buckeyes' 2002 championship team.
After a short and successful run at Cincinnati, he took over at Michigan State.
"He went in with a plan, didn't waver from his plan, demanded excellence on and off the field, demanded toughness," Tressel said. "It's critical. You can see that's the way they play offensively or defensively or special teams."
There aren't many coaching staffs with more common connections than Ohio State and Michigan State.
Tressel's nephew, Mike Tressel, coaches linebackers and special teams for the Spartans. The elder Tressel noted the connection this week and said he was impressed with Michigan State's special teams.
"Trying to give him a little love here," Jim Tressel said of his nephew, who spent two years as a graduate assistant at Ohio State.
Mike Tressel said Wednesday the two coaching staffs read the transcripts of each other's press conferences and "there are probably hidden messages in there" everyone else would miss.
The younger Tressel said he enjoys the opportunity to get together with a wide variety of family and friends attending a Michigan State-Ohio State game, but there is a downside.
"You hate to be in a situation where somebody has to lose," he said. "But that's part of the business."
When Jim Tressel coached wide receivers at Miami of Ohio in 1979-80, one of his players was Don Treadwell, now Michigan State's offensive coordinator. Treadwell later was an assistant for Tressel at Youngstown State.
Tressel coached quarterbacks at Syracuse in the early 1980s. One of his QBs was Dave Warner, who now is Michigan State's quarterbacks coach.
"One of the most competitive quarterbacks I've ever seen in my life," Tressel said of Warner. "I still have a film that I made up of him that I've showed for years to my quarterbacks as to how tough you need to be when you play that position."
Michigan State tight end/tackles coach Mark Staten was a graduate assistant for Tressel and the Buckeyes in 2002-03.
Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman spent three years as an assistant at Michigan State, working with Dantonio under Saban. Bollman and Dantonio also worked together in Columbus and at Youngstown State under Tressel.
Ohio State safeties coach Paul Haynes coached at Michigan State under former head coach John L. Smith in 2003-04.
Michigan State and Ohio State share some similar philosophies and schemes, from a run-first offense to an aggressive defense. But it's hard to tell who has the advantage in guessing what the other side will do headed into Saturday's game.
"You spend time at another place with a person, you get to know that person," Dantonio said. "That person also gets to know you. So it goes both ways there."