B1G bowl opponent primer: Stanford

We conclude our look at Big Ten bowl opponents with an examination of the league's highest-ranked postseason foe, which appropriately awaits in the Grandaddy ...


Michigan State (11-1) vs. Stanford (11-2)

Pasadena, Calif., 5 p.m. ET, Jan. 1, ESPN

Stanford Cardinal

Coach: David Shaw (third season, 34-6)

Combined opponents' record: 81-64

Common opponent: Notre Dame. Stanford beat the Irish 27-20 at home on Nov. 30. Michigan State lost 17-13 in South Bend on Sept. 21.

Best wins: Oregon, Arizona State (twice), UCLA, Notre Dame

Worst loss: Utah

Record vs. Michigan State: 2-3. The Cardinal won the last meeting 38-0 in the 1996 Sun Bowl.

Top passer: Kevin Hogan (2,487 yards, 20 touchdowns, nine interceptions, 61.4 completion percentage)

Top rusher: Tyler Gaffney (1,618 yards and 20 touchdowns, 5.3 yards per carry)

Top defenders: LB Shayne Skov (100 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 10 TFLs, two forced fumbles); LB Trent Murphy (58 tackles, 14 sacks, 21.5 TFLs, one interception, two forced fumbles); S Jordan Richards (three interceptions, four sacks); DE Josh Mauro (four sacks, two forced fumbles, interception, 11.5 TFLs)

What to know: Despite its two losses, Stanford would have a strong claim for inclusion if the four-team playoff began this season. The Cardinal won what most people would concede is the nation's deepest conference in the Pac-12. They beat six teams that were ranked at the time they played them, including one of those teams -- Arizona State -- twice. They manhandled Oregon most of the way before the Ducks made the score respectable with a late comeback. But they did also have those two losses, including one of the biggest upsets of the season when they lost at Utah. In retrospect, maybe the defeats were understandable. The stunner at Utah came a week after a physical win against Washington, while the Cardinal also dropped a road game to an inspired USC team nine days after the big Oregon victory. At its best, Stanford can play with anyone. Incredibly, this is the program's fourth straight year playing in a BCS game, and this year's team has a balanced offense plus a defense that's ranked No. 3 in rushing yards allowed, No. 10 in scoring and in the top 15 in several other categories. This is a veteran, physical team that has few weaknesses except perhaps in pass defense, and even those numbers are probably inflated by the pass-happy offenses of the Pac-12.

Key matchup: Just about every time Michigan State played this year, we noted how tough it would be for the opponent to run the ball and score points. Now, the Spartans will face a team that's strong in the same areas as them. Stanford allowed just 91 rushing yards per game and under three yards per carry this year, numbers that rival Michigan State's against more explosive offensive competition. Skov and Murphy lead a 3-4 defense that stuffs the line of scrimmage and causes chaos in the backfield. Will Jeremy Langford, who has run for at least 100 yards in his last eight games, find any room against that Cardinal D? Stanford hasn't given up 30 points to an opponent in its last 21 games. The only school with a longer streak is Michigan State, which hasn't allowed an opponent to reach 30 in 26 straight games. So the key in the 100th Rose Bowl for both teams is whether either can manufacture ways to move the ball and score on the other.