Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio chose to focus on the big picture after closing the season with a loss in the Capital One Bowl.
"I want to thank our seniors for raising the bar for our program by helping us play on New Year's Day," Dantonio said Friday in a telephone interview. "We wanted to keep this program moving forward and they made sure we didn't take a step back.
"We found a way to win a lot of close games this season and that made all the difference. We needed to perform better in our biggest games against Ohio State and Penn State, but I thought we competed much better against Georgia."
The 16th-ranked Bulldogs overcame a three-point deficit at halftime to beat the 19th-ranked Spartans by 12 Thursday after losing to the Big Ten co-champion Buckeyes and Nittany Lions by a combined score of 94-25.
In those three setbacks and the season-opening loss at California, All-American Javon Ringer was held to an average of 59 yards rushing and just 3 yards a carry.
In Michigan State's nine victories, Ringer ran for 1,400 yards.
The Spartans will have to learn how to win without him next year.
Ringer set a single-season record for Michigan State with his 22nd rushing touchdown against Georgia and finished second in school history with 4,398 yards rushing.
Four running backs who didn't get much work this season -- A.J. Jimmerson, Andre Anderson, Ashton Leggett and Glenn Winston -- will compete with a pair of incoming freshmen -- Larry Caper II of Battle Creek Central High School and Oak Park's Edwin Baker -- for playing time next fall.
A first-year starter will be handing off to inexperienced running backs and throwing to seasoned players.
Michigan State might get more production next season at quarterback.
Brian Hoyer threw as many TDs (nine) as interceptions as a senior and completed just 51 percent of his passes. As a junior, he threw 20 TDs, 11 interceptions and connected on nearly 60 percent of his throws.
Dantonio is encouraged with his options at quarterback: Kirk Cousins, who played in four games this season, and Keith Nichol, who will be eligible next fall after transferring from Oklahoma.
"Kirk had a great year, playing well whenever he had an opportunity," Dantonio said. "Keith did a great job with our scout team.
"We'll go into the spring with two great quarterbacks."
A trio of receivers -- Blair White, B.J. Cunningham and Mark Dell -- along with a solid offensive line should ease the transition for the new quarterback.
Michigan State will most of its starters back on defense, led by promising players Greg Jones at linebacker and Trevor Anderson at defensive end. The kicking game should be in good shape with kicker Brett Swenson and punter Aaron Bates returning after strong seasons.
Michigan State's next step as a program might be the toughest.
The Spartans have climbed back to respectability, winning nine games for the first time since Nick Saban's last regular season in 1999, and have helped Dantonio win more games (16) than any coach in his first two years at the school.
But if Michigan State wins at least eight games next season, it will mark just the second time the program has won that many victories in consecutive seasons since it was a national power in the mid-1960s.
Ringer said the Spartans are used to overcoming doubters.
"Last year, it was about making it to a bowl game, and we did that, but it was about Michigan State not winning the close games," Ringer told reporters in Orlando, Fla. "This year, we won the close games and we wanted to go to a New Year's Day game -- we did that. Now, next year, I'm sure the talk will be, 'We didn't win the big one,' Ohio State, Penn State, Georgia.
"I'm pretty confident that next year, with the way the program is going, we will be able to win those big games. I'm pretty confident this program is just going to keep moving forward."