If Mark Dantonio and Mike Hart are in the same room together any time soon, there better be someone else in there, too.

If Mark Dantonio and Mike Hart are in the same room together any time soon, there better be someone else in there, too.

Dantonio, the first-year head coach at Michigan State, and Hart, Michigan’s senior running back, aren’t on each other’s speed dial after the Wolverines came back and beat the Spartans, 28-24, last week.

Michigan State watched a 10-point fourth-quarter lead disappear as the Wolverines won to keep their Big Ten title hopes alive. When it was over, Hart said beating the Spartans was like beating a little brother.

“Sometimes you get your little brother excited when you’re playing basketball, and you let him get the lead. Then you come back,” Hart said.

Dantonio, normally mild-mannered and not easily enticed into a war of words responded with force earlier this week.

“Just remember, pride comes before the fall,” Dantonio said. “Does Hart have a little brother? Or is he the little brother?”

Dantonio then clarified what he meant by holding out his hand, poking fun at Hart’s 5-foot-9 height. Never mind the head coach isn’t much taller.

“You don’t have to be disrespect people,” Dantonio said. “We’ll come to play. ... But if they want to make a mockery of it, so be it. The time will come.”

Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer reminded reporters there comes a time when the little brother catches up.

“Sooner or later, the little brother fights back and kicks the other brother’s (butt),” he said.

Hart didn’t do future Wolverines any favors. This is a rivalry that’s been on simmer for a few years but will be hotter the next time they meet. Hart will be in the NFL by then.

Wolverines rebound

Michigan is looking at a possible top 10 finish to the season and will find itself in a BCS bowl by finishing with wins against Wisconsin and No. 1 Ohio State.

That’s a far cry from where the Wolverines were a few months ago -- embarrassed and left for dead after losses to Division I-AA Appalachian State and Oregon.

“I think what we’ve tried to focus on is trying to take it one week at a time and trying to get better,” Head Coach Lloyd Carr said. “That’s what we’ve tried to sell our players is that’s something that’s done down through the years at Michigan. You measure yourself at the end of the season when all the games have been played. The more you focus on each day and each week, the better chance you have to be satisfied.”

Beanie Brown

When Ohio State signed running back Chris “Beanie” Wells out of Akron, Buckeyes running back coach Dick Tressel raised eyebrows when he said Wells reminded him of Jim Brown.

In Ohio, you better be able to walk on water to be mentioned in the same paragraph as Jim Brown.

“He has a similar stature and a similar style,” OSU Head Coach Jim Tressel said, cleaning up his brother’s words from a few years ago. “That (comparison) made perfect sense to me. He just kind of looks similar. Obviously, he has a long way to go to reach the excellence of the great Jim Brown, but Beanie is getting better every day and working hard at it.”

Wells has rushed for 1,165 yards and scored 10 touchdowns this year. The bruising 6-foot-1, 235-pound sophomore is averaging close to 7 yards a carry the last three weeks. He doesn’t turn 20 until next August.

Little animal

For the second time this season, Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis was named the Big Ten’s defensive player of the week. Laurinaitis had a career-high 19 tackles against Wisconsin and stopped a fake-punt run in the fourth quarter. He also recovered a fumble, had a sack and a tackle for loss.

Laurinaitis, who’s father was “Animal” on the WWF’s “Road Warrior” tag team, is having a better than season than he did last year when he won the Nagurski Award. Laurinaitis doesn’t make many mistakes.

“I don’t see their defense as a whole making many mistakes,” said Dantonio, Ohio State’s defensive coordinator on the 2002 national title team. “He has great instinct. He hits with power, plays square to the line of scrimmage and has closing speed as a linebacker.”

What if?

If the Buckeyes can close the deal on the No. 1 ranking, they could play Kansas in the national title game, which would pair to head coaches who are nothing alike. Jim Tressel is tiny and Mark Mangino, well, isn’t.

But they aren’t strangers. Mangino coached with Tressel at Youngstown State.

“He was unlike anyone I ever had,” Tressel said. “Mark Mangino worked on the Pennsylvania Turnpike from midnight ‘til 8 in the morning and he was finishing his degree. Then he was working with us from 2 ‘til 11, at night and he’d leave in time to get back to the turnpike. I knew then he’d be something special.”

Reach Repository sports writer Todd Porter at (330) 580-8340 or e-mail todd.porter@cantonrep.com