Stanford (11-2, 7-2 Pac-12) at Michigan State (12-1, 8-0 B1G) (1:30 p.m. ET, on BTN)
Line: Stanford -7 (Bovada)
Last Meeting: 1996 (Stanford 38-0)
3 Players to Watch:
1) Connor Cook (QB, MSU):Somehow he did it; Connor Cook has brought the Spartans to the Promised Land. If I had told you in the beginning of the season the Connor had what it took to be an All-B1G performer or that he could quarterback a 12-1 team, you would laugh at me. Heck, I would laugh at me. I have been one of his biggest critics throughout the season, but the kid stepped up and has become exactly what MSU needs at the quarterback position. His 20 touchdowns compared to only 5 interceptions can tell you everything you need to know about Connor. He has been smart with his passes for the most part, but even when he makes a dumb throw he has been fortunate the majority of the time that the ball has not been picked off. In the B1G Championship game Connor was able to show how he has matured over this season. He completed 24 of 40 attempts for 304 yards and 3 touchdowns with one interception. If Cook can have similar or even come close to the numbers he had against Ohio State, the Spartans win this game and there is no doubt about it in my mind. The Cardinals give up 247.8 yards per game through the air, and have picked off 12 passes and allowed 20 touchdowns. If they have a weakness, it is against the pass.
2) Tyler Gaffney (HB, Stanford):The senior has had a MONSTER year. Gaffney has 1618 yards on the ground while adding 20 touchdowns and one receiving touchdown as well. The Cardinals will try to run the ball right up the middle and Ohio State seemed to have success with that against the Spartans in the B1G Championship game with Carlos Hyde. Stanford Center Khalil Wilkes was quoted this week saying that he feels “pretty confident (that Stanford’s running game will) mow (Michigan State) down.” Big words from a pretty big man. Like the MSU defense needed any more bulletin material. But maybe he will be right? Can the middle of the Spartan defensive line slow the Cardinals potent rushing attack? This will be a very important thing to watch for. If the Spartans can slow down the Cardinal’s rushing attack, they will have a great chance at leaving Pasadena as the 2014 Rose Bowl Champions. If they cannot, the Spartans will most likely lose this game.
3) Jeremy Langford (HB, MSU):Langford has had a MONSTER year of his own. He has 1338 yards on the ground while tacking on 17 touchdowns and one reception for a touchdown. Langford will face the best rushing defense he has seen all year against Stanford. The Cardinals are ranked 3rd in the nation against the run, only giving up 91.2 yards per game. Jeremy on the other hand has had eight straight games of gaining 100 or more yards on the ground. One of these statistics will not hold up. Will Langford be able to break down the Cardinal defense late in the game as he has done against so many other teams or will Stanford stand strong the entire game? This match-up will be extremely important and like the other key players mentioned, Jeremy Langford could be a huge reason the Spartans win or lose this game.
Forget the analysis, I am going to express to you what this game means to me. I wasn’t even born the last time Michigan State made the Rose Bowl 26 years ago. Honestly, growing up I really looked forward to watching this game even though my Spartans would not be playing. I grew up watching USC dominate the Rose Bowl and the Big Ten. The one that stands out in my mind is the 2009 Rose Bowl where USC beat Penn State 38 to 24. Probably because of the hits Taylor Mays handed out to the PSU players. But at that moment I honestly could not imagine MSU in the “Grandaddy of Them All.”
Sure I had played with MSU in the Rose Bowl plenty of times in the NCAA video game franchise and was more than frustrated with the famous Rose Bowl Shadow. But the actual MSU football team in the Rose Bowl? I couldn’t even imagine it. But that all changed the day Mark Dantonio walked into his first presser with that ginormous ring on his finger. I knew this man came to change everything. I knew he was here to win. He wasn’t here to blame himself or slap himself in the face, he was here to win.
We were a running into the kicker penalty away from the Rose Bowl in 2011 and let me tell you: it really hurt. I was in Indianapolis staying with my cousin and planned to stay the weekend but after such a disappointing loss I had to drive home. I couldn’t take it and I am sure the team felt way worse than any of us did. But that loss helped the 2013 Spartans more than you could imagine. Knowing that disappointment, knowing that sadness has pushed this team to where we all dreamed they would end up. We are finally here, Spartans, we have finally made it. Enjoy this day; it has been 26 years in the waiting.
My pick: Michigan State 24, Stanford 20