Shilique Calhoun knew the question before a reporter could even get it out of his mouth.
"I know your question, I know your question," Calhoun started. "'Since you guys are highly ranked this year and you guys have been doing well, do you still think you're an underdog?'
Disrespect isn't a new taste at Michigan State. It's a permanent one that the team brings with them to practice and games every day and it's still been lingering even after a Rose Bowl win over Stanford in 2013.
"We feel like we are overlooked a little bit but honestly it’s nothing different ever since I’ve been at Michigan State," senior quarterback Connor Cook said. "Even after we won the Rose Bowl, won the Big Ten, we didn’t really get the respect we deserve. People still kind of overlook us. Other teams that we finished in front of that year were ranked ahead of us in preseason polls. Nothing’s really changed. We’re going to have a chip on our shoulder no matter what the circumstances are."
Hours before the Michigan State Spartans hopped in front of microphones at Big Ten Media Day, the Amway Coaches Poll was released, listing the Spartans at No. 6 behind Ohio State and Baylor, the team Michigan State beat in the Cotton Bowl last year.
The high ranking is certainly well-deserved after the way 2014 finished in East Lansing and the return of Cook and Calhoun for their senior years.
"He (Calhoun) and Connor were probably two of the biggest things that happened to Michigan State in the offseason," coach Mark Dantonio said.
While Calhoun will be leading the madness on defense, Cook will look to take that next step as a quarterback in his final year. Luckily for him, he's protected by an offensive line group led by center Jack Allen and tackle Jack Conklin (both of whom Cook believes are the best at their positions in the entire country) that is loaded with experience and chemistry, the ideal combination for success in the trenches.
"Chemistry wise, playing next to each other, Coach D does a good job of mixing it up and guys get comfortable playing multiple positions next to multiple people so you don’t have a guy that just plays right guard or just plays center or just plays left guard," Allen said. "There’s guys who can play a bunch of positions and they’re comfortable at all of them."
With the departure of Tony Lippett, Keith Mumphrey and Jeremy Langford, Cook will be surrounded by new skill players on offense. The offensive line knows it has the ability to open up holes for anyone in the backfield but the Spartans' senior signal caller is putting the pressure on himself to take his team to the next level.
"Connor Cook's got to finish," Cook said.
Whispers of a Heisman trophy for Cook are running through the streets of East Lansing. Dantonio is confident that his quarterback won't let the noise get to him heading into the season but knows that he's got something to prove in his final games as a Spartan.
"I think he's come back with the idea that there are things left to prove," Dantonio said. "And he's going to continue to take his game to a higher level. And that's exciting because I think that the makeup of our football team, I think, in general is, you know, keep trying to strive forward, keep trying to move the process forward, and be as good as you can possibly be."
The Spartans' motto for 2015 is "Reaching Higher", a fitting mark for a team that is still hungry for respect as they feel their experienced team is battle-tested for what is coming in the fall. Calhoun doesn't care how the chip ends up on the team's shoulder. He just knows it's not going away anytime soon.
"If it’s not America giving us our chip, it’s ourselves," Calhoun said. "We find a way."