Stanford, Michigan State headed to 100th Rose Bowl
Michigan State and Stanford have been selected to ring in the Rose Bowl’s centennial.
The No. 4 Spartans will face the fifth-ranked Cardinal on Jan. 1 in the 100th edition of the Rose Bowl game, pitting two venerable programs in Pasadena’s traditional Midwest-West Coast intersectional matchup.
"It will be a great one," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said Sunday night.
Michigan State (12-1) upset Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game on Saturday to earn its first trip to Pasadena since Jan. 1, 1988, when the Spartans beat USC 20-17. Michigan State has won nine straight games heading into its fifth Rose Bowl berth.
Stanford (11-2) is back in Pasadena for the second straight season after trouncing Arizona State in the Pac-12 title game on Saturday. The powerful Cardinal held off Wisconsin 20-14 last season for the school’s first Rose Bowl victory in 40 years.
"Our guys have fond memories of it, but they’ve already started to say it: Last year was last year, and we have to prepare this year completely different," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "Michigan State has been on a phenomenal run, nine straight games, tough competition, and has come to play every week, and we know it’s going to be a great game."
The Rose Bowl got a compelling matchup for the centennial game in the newly renovated jewel of a stadium nestled in Arroyo Seco. Two top-five teams with enthused fan bases will meet in a bowl that’s been decided by fewer than 10 points in each of the last four seasons.
Both schools have been playing football since the late 19th century, and Stanford even played in what’s considered the first Rose Bowl game — a 49-0 loss to Michigan in what was called the "Tournament East-West football game" on Jan. 1, 1902, in Pasadena’s Tournament Park.
"There’s been a lot of talk about bookending the 100 years," Shaw said. "Being in the first Rose Bowl game as Stanford University, and then coming back in the 100th, has been really exciting for our fans and for our alumni."
While most of Stanford’s roster was at the Rose Bowl last season for a gritty win over the Badgers, the Spartans are a generation removed from their school’s last trip.
Michigan State will close the first 12-win season in school history in sunny Southern California, and the Spartans are long overdue for the chance to bask in that sun and spotlight. After laboring in the shadow of Michigan and the Big Ten’s elite programs for decades, Michigan State has broken through under Dantonio, who went to the Rose Bowl in 1984 as a graduate assistant at Ohio State.
Michigan State missed an opportunity to end its Rose Bowl drought two years ago when Russell Wilson and Wisconsin flattened the Spartans in the inaugural Big Ten title game. Many players still around East Lansing mentioned that game this week as motivation against Ohio State, and Michigan State erased that memory with a gritty performance against the Buckeyes, who hadn’t lost in Urban Meyer’s tenure.
Dantonio acknowledged the Spartans might have sneaked into the Rose Bowl through the BCS even with a loss to Ohio State.
"But it feels much better going in the front door than the back," he said. "That’s just the way we’ve always tried to approach things here, and I think our players understand that and respect that, too. We did it our way, the way we wanted to do it, and we did it ourselves."
Stanford and Michigan State will match strength against strength when the Cardinal have the ball. Michigan State had the nation’s best run defense heading into the Big Ten title game, while the Cardinal are one of the nation’s most punishing rushing teams in front of tailback Tyler Gaffney, who scored three touchdowns in the first half of the Pac-12 title game.
The Spartans are used to playing tough-nosed teams in the Big Ten, but they might not have seen anything like the improbable Palo Alto powerhouse built by coach Jim Harbaugh and raised to even greater heights by Shaw.
Stanford survived the tumultuous Pac-12 season to make its first back-to-back appearances in the Rose Bowl since earning consecutive victories on New Year’s Day in 1971 and 1972.
The Cardinal could have been knocked out of the BCS hunt twice this season with upset losses to Utah and USC, but repeatedly bounced back with steady play from quarterback Kevin Hogan and a massive offensive line. Stanford’s defense has been outstanding yet again, highlighted by three scoreless quarters during a stellar effort in a 26-20 win over Oregon last month.