WHO: 11-2 Stanford (Pac-12) vs. 12-1 Michigan State (Big Ten)
WHAT: The Rose Bowl (100th year)
WHERE: The Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
WHEN: Jan. 1 at 5 p.m. ET
WHY: Two power teams face off in the 100th Grandaddy of the them all, a matchup that hearkens back to the great Pac-12/Big Ten battles of old. Except instead of names like Schembechler, Hayes and McKay, it’s (David) Shaw and (Mark) Dantonio taking center stage.
These teams start with defense. Michigan State leads the nation in total defense and is in the top five in every other meaningful category. Thorpe Award winner Darqueze Dennard paces a stingy and hard hitting secondary while defensive end Shilique Calhoun leads the team with 7.5 sacks. However, the Spartans will be without third-leading tackler, linebacker Max Bullough, who was suspended for the game.
The Spartan offense won’t be mistaken for a dynamic unit, but it has improved over the course of the season. Quarterback Connor Cook has quietly put together a fine year, throwing for 2,423 yards with 20 touchdown passes and just five picks. Running back Jeremy Langford has 1,338 yards and 17 touchdowns. This is a patient offense that doesn’t make many mistakes (just 13 turnovers on the season).
Stanford also has one of the best defenses in the country. While its statistics don’t quite match up with Michigan State’s, it also played in a conference with more dynamic offensive schemes. The Cardinal lead the nation in sacks and are led by All-American linebackers Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov. There really are no weaknesses in this unit, which is dominated by seniors.
The one advantage Stanford’s offense has over Michigan State’s is that it has been in this scenario before. Kevin Hogan led the Cardinal to the Rose Bowl championship last season, so he knows what to expect. Hogan has a penchant for playing well against ranked teams and he finished the season with 2,492 yards, 20 touchdown passes and nine interceptions, along with 306 rushing yards. But Stanford depends on a punishing ground game that is not afraid to chip away patiently with three and four yard runs. Tailback Tyler Gaffney embodied that mentality to the tune of 1,626 yards and 20 touchdowns. He’ll likely get the ball 30-plus times against the Spartans.
The Cardinal are looking for back-to-back Rose Bowl wins for the first time since the Jim Plunkett days of 1970-1971. Michigan State is looking for its first Rose Bowl title since 1988. Whichever team scores last is probably going to win.
PREDICTION: Stanford 20, Michigan State 17