Stanford Football: Michigan State Spartans

Getting to know Jashon Cornell 

April, 18, 2014
4/18/14
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video Throughout this recruiting cycle, RecruitingNation will profile a number of ESPN 300 prospects in the 2015 class, including an inside look at the prospect, his recruitment, a scouting report and what college program could benefit when he ultimately makes his decision.

When you attend a school as prestigious as Cretin-Derham Hall, as No. 16-ranked recruit Jashon Cornell does, you are bound to have connections. The Minnesota school has produced its share of college and NFL players over the years, including associate dean of students Marcus Freeman, who played for Notre Dame.

Early Offer: Signing day is here 

February, 5, 2014
2/05/14
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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: The Class of 2014 will go down as one of the wildest recruiting rides in recent memory. With so many players switching commitments and some elite prospects still left on the board, here are five things to keep an eye on heading into recruiting’s biggest day.

Does Bama have the best class ever?


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PASADENA, Calif. -- Michigan State rallied from an early 10-point deficit to dominate the final three quarters against Stanford in the 100th edition of the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO.

Here's a quick recap of the Spartans' victory.

It was over when: Middle linebacker Kyler Elsworth, replacing the suspended Max Bullough, stuffed Stanford fullback Ryan Hewitt (along with help from Shilique Calhoun and others) on fourth and-1 with 1:34 left and the ball at Stanford's 34-yard line. Stanford had used its final timeout, so Michigan State ran out the clock.

Game ball goes to: MSU quarterback Connor Cook. He had several heart-stopping throws, including one of the worst pick-sixes you'll ever see in the second quarter. But Cook once again didn't let a mistake faze him, and he displayed his tremendous skill in attacking Stanford's secondary. He recorded his second consecutive career-high passing performance (332 yards) on his second mega stage, completing 22 of 36 attempts with two touchdowns. His first two career 300-yard passing performances come in the Big Ten championship game and the Rose Bowl. Not too shabby.

Stat of the game: Stanford recorded a 43-yard pass to Michael Rector on the game's second play from scrimmage and a 47-yard Tyler Gaffney rush late in the first quarter. The Cardinal had a 51-yard pass play in the third quarter. Those three plays accounted for 141 of Stanford's 305 total yards. The Cardinal ran only nine plays for 23 yards in the second quarter, excluding a kneel-down on the final play of the half.

Stat of the game II: Michigan State became the first team to rally from a halftime deficit to win a Rose Bowl since the 2000 game, when Wisconsin erased a 9-3 Stanford lead and won 17-9 behind Ron Dayne.

What Stanford learned: The Cardinal still struggle to beat teams that can match them physically, especially up front. All those big linemen and creative formations didn't make much difference against a swarming Michigan State defense that surrendered only 11 first downs and 305 yards (mostly on three plays). Stanford learned that it wasn't a true national title contender, losing three games to teams that mirrored its style of play. And while David Shaw remains an elite coach, his conservative play calls seemed to cost his team down the stretch.

What Michigan State learned: The Spartans are an elite program led by an elite coach in Mark Dantonio and an elite staff. They have an elite quarterback in Cook. They can overcome the loss of an elite player in Bullough. Michigan State learned it can play on the biggest stages with the best teams in the country and beat them with power football. The Spartans never went off track, even after a shaky start, and made enough plays in all three phases to record one of the biggest wins in program history.

Join us for Rose Bowl Live (5 ET)

January, 1, 2014
1/01/14
11:00
AM ET
“The Granddaddy Of Them All” turns 100 today and Stanford and Michigan State are the party guests.

At 5 p.m. ET, join us here as we chat throughout the Rose Bowl with Big Ten reporters Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett and Pac-12 reporters Ted Miller and Kevin Gemmell. Post your comments and questions and we’ll include as many of them as possible.

Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO

January, 1, 2014
1/01/14
10:00
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LOS ANGELES -- The 100th edition of the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO is finally here, as No. 4 Michigan State (12-1) takes on No. 5 Stanford (11-2).

Let's dive in ...

WHO TO WATCH: Michigan State linebackers Kyler Elsworth and Darien Harris. The biggest personnel issue entering the game is how the Spartans replace All-Big Ten middle linebacker and co-captain Max Bullough, who was suspended last week and didn't travel with the team. Elsworth, a senior used mostly on special teams, likely will get the start, although Harris also will play. Bullough brilliantly handled the play calls and much of the communication on defense, so his leadership will be missed. Stanford presents a lot of different looks with its offensive line groupings, so Elsworth and Harris will need to make sure their teammates are in the right places. There are plenty of veteran, multiyear starters throughout Michigan State's defense who also need to step up in Bullough's absence.

WHAT TO WATCH: The quarterbacks. Both defenses are extremely sound and both teams love to run the ball, but quarterback play often makes the difference in a game that looks pretty close on paper. Stanford's Kevin Hogan has been here before, helping the Cardinal to a win in the 2013 Rose Bowl. He had some ups and downs this season but comes off of a strong performance (277 pass yards on just 12 completions, 1 TD) in the Pac-12 championship game against Arizona State. Michigan State's Connor Cook is a stranger to the Rose Bowl stage but looked comfortable in the Big Ten championship game against Ohio State, recording a career-high 304 pass yards and three touchdowns and winning MVP honors. Both defenses can take away the opposing run games, so which quarterback makes clutch throws and limits mistakes?

WHY TO WATCH: If you really need a reason, pick another sport. It's the 100th Rose Bowl featuring two top-five teams with similar hard-hitting styles, excellent coaches and tremendous defenses. Stanford entered the season with national championship aspirations and can reaffirm what might have been with a second consecutive Rose Bowl win in its fourth straight BCS bowl appearance. Michigan State makes its first trip to Pasadena in 26 years and carries the banner of a beleaguered Big Ten Conference that has dropped nine of the past 10 Rose Bowls. A victory would cap Michigan State's most successful season since the back-to-back national title teams in 1965-66. The Rose Bowl enters the playoff rotation next fall, so the traditional Pac-12 versus Big Ten matchup won't be guaranteed.

PREDICTION: Stanford 21, Michigan State 17. Stanford's BCS bowl experience pays off as the Cardinal limit mistakes and force some Michigan State turnovers to win a hard-hitting nail-biter.

Video: Stanford OC Mike Bloomgren

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
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Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren talks about his quarterback, Kevin Hogan, and the Michigan State defense heading into Wednesday's Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO.
LOS ANGELES -- Michigan State's defense is preparing vigorously for Stanford's offense as well as for life without its leader, middle linebacker Max Bullough.

Despite Bullough's shocking suspension, the standards haven't changed for the "Spartan Dawgs," who, as linebacker Denicos Allen noted Sunday, want to show everyone why they're the nation's No. 1 defense.

[+] EnlargeMax Bullough
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsHow will Michigan State's defense adjust without Max Bullough?
But before the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO, MSU's defenders might want to set aside some time to examine Stanford's defense, specifically the way the unit adjusted without one of its best players. The Cardinal lost defensive end Ben Gardner to a season-ending torn pectoral muscle in late October.

Like Bullough, Gardner is a captain and one of the defense's top performers, racking up 4.5 sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss and eight quarterback hits, the most on the team at the time. He's so good that he earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors despite missing Stanford's final five games.

Twelve days after Gardner's injury, Stanford held Oregon's dynamic offense scoreless for three quarters in a 26-20 win. The Cardinal surrendered just 62 rush yards and 312 total yards and recorded three sacks.

Stanford's defensive statistics without Gardner weren't dramatically different than they were with Gardner. The Cardinal allowed less than 75 rush yards in four of the final five games and finished with an outstanding effort against Arizona State's explosive offense in the Pac-12 championship. Arizona State had just 14 points and 311 yards, well below its season averages (41.0 ppg, 460.8 ypg).

"You feel for your teammates, but at the same time, you have to keep your vision on what the team goal is," Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov said. "You recognize that, unfortunately, somebody is gone, is no longer an active participant, but you have to keep moving forward.

"Whenever you lose someone as talented and as important a leader and integrated into your team, as I'm sure Max was and Ben [are], you have to find ways to, not replace them, but work and make an adaptation."

The circumstances of the losses are different -- Gardner was injured and remains with his teammates for the Rose Bowl; Bullough was suspended right before the team left for California and will not attend the game. But the realities are the same: There's shock and disappointment, and then there's another tough game to play.

"I kept a coldblooded approach," Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy said, "and kept moving forward and knew there were still games to be played and work to be done. Then, at the senior banquet, [Gardner] spoke and got everyone choked up a little bit and then it was like, oh man.

"Other than that, I kept moving forward."

Stanford benefited from replacing Garnder with Henry Anderson, a senior who had earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2012. Anderson suffered a knee injury in September but returned for the Oregon showdown, Stanford's first game without Gardner.

Michigan State's Kyler Elsworth isn't as decorated as Anderson, but the fifth-year senior who could start in Bullough's place brings experience and familiarity to the role. He's not Bullough in terms of system knowledge and communication -- no one is -- but he understands the scheme and the personnel around him.

"We've won because of chemistry here," Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said Sunday. "There's an opportunity for somebody else to lead."

Elsworth, primarily a special-teams player during his career, embraces that opportunity "ten-fold."

"[Stanford] lost a player, and that's an adverse situation, that's something you've got to overcome," Elsworth said. "Our team has been doing that for a while now."

He mentioned safety RJ Williamson stepping in for safety Isaiah Lewis because of injury and a targeting ejection against Northwestern, and the way the coaching staff handled Dantonio's health-related absence during the 2010 season.

"There's countless times where our team has rallied around everybody," Elsworth said, "stepped up and came into the game with the mind-set that, 'Hey, no matter what is thrown at us, we can handle it.'

"This is no different. It's another curveball. Guys have stepped up their leadership, I'm stepping up my leadership, and we're very prepared for this game."

Video: Stanford coach David Shaw

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
2:02
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Stanford coach David Shaw talks about the Cardinal's recent run of success and the battle with Michigan State in the 100th Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO.

Rose Bowl notes: MSU missing Bullough

December, 28, 2013
12/28/13
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LOS ANGELES -- When a team loses a three-year starter, a two-time All-Conference performer and a two-time team captain to a shocking suspension in advance of the Rose Bowl, as Michigan State did with linebacker Max Bullough, it matters. It matters big-time.

This is something that Michigan State and Stanford players agree on.

[+] EnlargeMax Bullough, Denicos Allen
Mike Carter/USA TODAY Sports Michigan State's defense will have to find ways to replace the leadership of Max Bullough (40).
"You can tell he was a leader on defense by the way the team reacts to him," Cardinal fullback Ryan Hewitt said. "So you know they're going to be missing their leader, their smartest player on defense."

The Spartans led the nation in rushing and total defense, and Bullough was a big reason why. His 76 tackles and 9.5 tackles for a loss ranked third on the defense. His potential replacements, senior Kyler Elsworth and sophomore Darien Harris -- a starter hasn't been named -- combined for 17 tackles.

While the physical loss is big, it's perhaps more challenging to lose Bullough's smarts and leadership. Mental mistakes, even more than physical shortcomings, are often critical in defensive-minded, low-scoring games, as most expect the Rose Bowl to be.

"I think they'll probably miss his leadership," Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren said. "I feel like he was probably the quarterback of their huddle, and in addition they will miss some of those checks at the line of scrimmage."

And that could provide Stanford with the opportunity for an explosive play.

STANFORD STYLE: Bloomgren was asked about Stanford's style of play. In past years, Stanford players have talked about "class and cruelty." It appears they have a new colorful mantra.

"When I think about our offense," Bloomgren said. "I want it to be intellectual brutality."

In other words: It's about smart guys who run over their opponents.

Quarterback Kevin Hogan, who is not known for turning colorful phrases to the media, picked up this same theme without much prodding.

"I would say that no one can out-weigh our physicality, out-toughen us," he said. "That's our goal. We want teams to quit, we want them to tap out and say, 'If you do that one more time, I'm done.' That's our goal."

MOVING UP FROM THE IVY LEAGUE: One of the popular topics this week is Stanford's rise to national football power as the preeminent academic university playing AQ conference football. Defensive coordinator Derek Mason pointed out that the Cardinal's recruiting pool is about "one percent" of the AQ-conference capable high school football players.

But recruiting has gotten easier than it was during the early Jim Harbaugh years. Fifth-year senior outside linebacker Trent Murphy said he didn't know anything about Stanford when it first started recruiting him out of Mesa, Ariz.

"I couldn't tell you what division Stanford was in," he said. "I thought it was an Ivy League school and played Harvard in a smart school bowl every year. My perception was skewed until Jim Harbaugh showed up at my door with a big grin on his face and a hungry look in his eye and he said, 'Here is what we want to do and we want you to be a part of it.' And I was like, 'Okay!'"

GOAL LINE STAND? Stanford RB Tyler Gaffney has scored 18 of his 20 rushing touchdowns against eight or more defenders in the box, the most such touchdowns among AQ running backs. On average, 50 percent of rushing touchdowns are scored against defenses with eight or more defenders in the box.

Michigan State, meanwhile, has allowed just seven rushing touchdowns all year.

GETTING DEFENSIVE: Michigan State and Stanford both rank in the top 10 in ESPN’s defensive efficiency ratings. Michigan State leads the FBS in yards allowed per game (247.8), rush yards allowed per game (80.5) and third-down defense (28 percent). Entering bowl season, Stanford ranks atop the Pac-12 and among the top 15 nationally in each of those categories.

Bowl primer: Rose Bowl

December, 20, 2013
12/20/13
9:00
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We continue our look at each of the Pac-12’s opponents during the bowl season.

Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio
Pasadena, Calif., Jan. 1, 2 p.m. PT, ESPN
Stanford (11-2) vs. Michigan State (12-1)

Michigan State Spartans

Coach: Mark Dantonio (seventh season)
Record: 12-1, 8-0 Big Ten
Combined opponent’s record: 77-80 (.490)
Common opponents: Notre Dame handed Michigan State its only loss of the year, a 17-13 defeat in September. Stanford beat the Irish 27-20 in its regular season finale.
Leading passer: Connor Cook, 201-344 (58.4 percent) for 2,423 yards with 20 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Leading rusher: Jeremy Langford, 269-1,338 with 17 touchdowns.
Leading receiver: Bennie Fowler, 34-525 with six touchdowns.
Leading tackler: Denicos Allen, 91 tackles (15 tackles for a loss).

What to know: The Spartans enter the Rose Bowl riding a nine-game winning streak that includes a convincing win over then-No. 21 Michigan and one of the biggest upsets of the season in their 34-24 win over then-No. 2 Ohio State. The win over the Buckeyes in the Big Ten championship game snapped OSU’s streak of 24 straight wins and threw all sorts of wrenches into the BCS standings.

Michigan State is relatively healthy heading into Pasadena with little more than the run of the mill bumps and bruises.

For obvious reasons, this game is being billed as a clash of defensive titans. And it is. Michigan State has the No. 1 rush defense in the nation. Stanford is No. 3. Michigan State has the No. 4 scoring defense. Stanford is 10th. One team has a 1,300-yard rusher. The other a 1,600-yard rusher. Both value disciplined, physical line play with an emphasis on field position, ball control and ball security.

Plenty more will be written about this game from both the Pac-12 and Big Ten blogs, but the takeaway you’re going to hear is defense, defense, defense.

One thing to note offensively for the Spartans, per Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg, is that their wide receiving corps has improved significantly this year in reducing the number of drops. That’s helped contribute to a plus-14 turnover margin -- which is tied for seventh nationally.

Key matchup: This is the kind of game that should make Stanford head coach David Shaw all giddy. Line up one of the best offensive lines in the country against one of the best front sevens and have at it. Allen is the leader. You recall his stop on OSU’s Braxton Miller on fourth down in the conference title game, but he’s got an outstanding supporting cast around him. Both teams will try to establish a rushing attack. As far as line play goes, this one should be the highlight of the entire bowl season.

Rose Bowl defenses: A closer look

December, 13, 2013
12/13/13
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The Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO features two of the nation's best defenses with Stanford and Michigan State, so ESPN.com's Stats & Information, as is their wont, decided to take a closer look.

First off, the basic numbers. Michigan State leads the nation in yards per game (247.8), yards per play (3.9) and third-down defense (28 percent conversion rate). The Spartans' defense has allowed the fewest rushing yards per game (80.5), yards per rush (2.7) and 10-yard runs (30) in the FBS. The Spartans have held 10 opponents to fewer than 100 rushing yards, the most such games in the FBS. They did not allow a team to run for 100 yards until Week 12 against Nebraska.

Stanford has held its past seven opponents to 20 points or fewer and ranks atop the FBS in most major defensive categories despite playing the fourth-hardest schedule in the country (according to ESPN’s strength of schedule rankings).

The difference in schedule strength is an issue when comparing the defenses, Stats & Info notes:
A pure, statistical comparison of Michigan State’s and Stanford’s defenses may not be fair because Stanford has faced eight teams ranked in the top 40 in the FBS in total offense, compared with just two for Michigan State. Instead, let’s take a look at what each defense does best and how that translates to the Rose Bowl.

Here are some notable numbers, first for Michigan State.
  • Against the Spartans, it is hard to find space to run. On designed runs, Michigan State leads the FBS in yards before contact per game (40.3) and yards before contact per rush (1.7). The AQ averages are 89 yards before contact per game and 2.7 yards before contact per rush.
  • Nicknamed the “no fly zone”, Michigan State’s starting secondary, led by cornerback Darqueze Dennard and safety Isaiah Lewis, has 29 pass breakups and 12 interceptions. With this group, Michigan State rarely gives up big plays.
  • The Spartans allow opponents to complete 23.3 percent of their passes thrown 15 yards or longer, best among AQ defenses. They did not allow any opponent to complete more than 50 percent of such passes and limited Braxton Miller to 2-of-9 in the Big Ten Championship.
  • The Spartans' ability to play man-to-man coverage has afforded defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi the luxury of being aggressive without jeopardizing his pass defense. Michigan State sends five or more pass rushers on 34 percent of its opponents’ dropbacks, the highest percentage in the Big Ten. On such plays, opponents are completing 46.9 percent of their passes and are averaging 5 yards per attempt.

And for Stanford:
  • The strength of Stanford’s defense is its front seven. Led by linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy, the Cardinal tied for sixth in the FBS with 98 tackles for loss and tied for first with 40 sacks.
  • Stanford does not have to send extra pass rushers to get after the quarterback. When sending four or fewer pass rushers, the Cardinal have 31 sacks and an AQ-high 110 total pressures.
  • Murphy, who is often the edge rusher, has an FBS-high 14 sacks. All of his sacks came as a part of a three- or four man rush. Because Stanford can create pressure without sending extra pass rushers, it leaves more men to drop into coverage.
  • Stanford’s front also has excelled in the running game. The Cardinal rank third in the FBS in rushing yards per game (91.2) and fourth in yards per rush (3.0). They have held all but one of their opponents below their season average for rush yards per game.
  • The key for Stanford has been its ability to penetrate the backfield and not allow opposing rushers to get outside. The Cardinal have made initial contact with opposing rushers at or behind the line of scrimmage on 48 percent of their carries, the second-highest percentage among AQ conference teams behind Virginia Tech (51 percent). Further, the Cardinal lead the Pac-12 in yards per rush (4.5) and touchdowns (four) allowed outside of the tackles.
So which defense is better? According to Stats & Info, it's pretty much a tie.

Adjusting for the strength of the offenses that each team has faced, Michigan State and Stanford have nearly identical rankings in ESPN’s defensive efficiency ratings -- a measure of expected points added per game on defense that adjusts for the strength of competition.

Even in the Rose Bowl it might be difficult to tell because the Cardinal offense is better than the Spartans. Stanford averages 33.2 points per game compared to 29.8 ppg. And keep the strength of schedule in mind when considering those numbers.

Interest in Stanford football is at an all-time high.

The No. 5-ranked Cardinal won its second-straight Pac-12 title, is headed to a fourth-straight BCS bowl and sold out Stanford Stadium every game during the regular season for the first time in history.

As a result, the demand for tickets to the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO against No. 4 Michigan State exceeds the estimated 32,000 tickets the bowl provides to Stanford. It's the same for Michigan State, which boasts a significantly larger alumni base and hasn't played in the game since beating USC 20-17 in 1988.

Danny Daoud, a 2006 graduate of Michigan State, booked his flights from Chicago a week before the Big Ten championship against Ohio State, anticipating the Spartans would be there. It was a relatively safe bet considering that even with a loss, Michigan State would likely have make the trip to Southern California.

Getting to Pasadena for the New Year's Day game was the easy part. It was the getting-into-the-stadium part that worried Daoud, who is not a Michigan State donor nor a season-ticket holder and didn't figure to have access to any of Michigan State's allotment of tickets. He was resigned to the fact that he'd be shelling out several hundred dollars on the secondary market.

Then came some unexpected news.

"I heard through a friend that they were selling tickets on the Stanford site. All you had to do was put down a $100 deposit for 2014 season tickets and you got access to four tickets," Daoud said. "So I went to the site, created an account, called them and sat on hold for an hour and 55 minutes and bought my tickets."

Due to high demand, the deposit was quickly upped to $200 Monday afternoon, but that hardly served a deterrent for those willing to eat the deposit to to score tickets. Daoud's four end-zone seats, plus a parking pass, cost him about $800 including taxes and fees. The cheapest single Rose Bowl ticket on StubHub Wednesday morning was more than $600.

"This is the coolest experience you can ever have," Daoud said. "You never know when you'll ever get back there."

The perception among both fan bases that a large chunk of Stanford's tickets were purchased by Michigan State fans is not accurate.

Current Stanford season-ticket holders had first priority and they bought the "overwhelming share" of the tickets according to Stanford senior assistant athletic director of communications Kurt Svoboda. Second on the priority list came students, who were allowed to purchase a subsidized ticket. Those two groups account for about 95 percent of what Stanford sold.

Those willing to put down a deposit, like Daoud, and tickets that were set aside for public sale --- which sold out in four minutes Tuesday afternoon -- made up the rest, which is about 1,600 tickets.

Svoboda also confirmed that Stanford has begun issuing refunds for those it feels abused the system. This is not targeted specifically at those it believes are Michigan State fans, but more so at those who created multiple accounts and put down multiple deposits using the same credit card and billing address.

He said less than 100 people who placed deposits would have their deposits returned, but could not say how quickly the process to inform those people would be.

Those who are concerned about the status of the their tickets are encouraged to call the Stanford ticket office.

Video: Early look at Rose Bowl

December, 10, 2013
12/10/13
10:30
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Big Ten reporters Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett take an early look at the Rose Bowl presented by VIZIO.

Stanford Cardinal (11-2) vs. Michigan State Spartans (12-1)

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


STANFORD CARDINAL BREAKDOWN
Before last season, Stanford had never been to bowl games in four consecutive seasons. Following its dominant effort against Arizona State in the Pac-12 championship, the Cardinal is not only on its way to a fifth straight bowl but a fourth straight BCS game and second straight Rose Bowl.

[+] EnlargeTyler Gaffney
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesThe downhill style of Tyler Gaffney and the Michigan State defense are on a collision course.
Waiting in Pasadena for the 100th edition of the “Granddaddy” will be Michigan State. Winners of nine straight, including a 34-24 win against previously undefeated Ohio State in the Big Ten championship, the Spartans haven’t been to the Rose Bowl since 1988, when they beat USC 20-17.

The first thing that jumps out about this matchup is the similar styles. As was the case in Stanford’s 20-14 win against Wisconsin last year, points could be at a premium. Both Stanford (18.6 ppg) and Michigan State (12.7) allow fewer than 20 points per game, and the Spartans lead the nation in total defense. Neither team has allowed more than 28 points in a game this year; both allowed 28 on two occasions.

Considering how well Arizona State had been playing, Stanford’s 38-14 win in the Pac-12 championship might have been its most complete win of the season. Just as it did at home against the Sun Devils early in the year, it jumped out to a big first-half lead. This time, however, Stanford extended the lead after halftime to win going away. Running back Tyler Gaffney earned the game’s MVP honors and now has 1,618 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns on the season.

The teams’ only common opponent is Notre Dame. The Irish handed Michigan State its only loss of the season, 17-13 on Sept. 21., but fell 27-20 at Stanford on Nov. 30. Stanford has won its last 10 games against ranked opponents, with the last loss coming two years ago in the Fiesta Bowl to Oklahoma State.

Stanford is 6-7 all time in the Rose Bowl, while Michigan State is 3-1. -- Kyle Bonagura

vs.

MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS BREAKDOWN
As they’ve done after every win, the Michigan State Spartans held a Saturday night dance party in their locker room after upsetting Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game.

[+] EnlargeDarqueze Dennard
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsDarqueze Dennard leads Michigan State to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1987.
Noticeably absent from the hip-hop playlist: “Going back to Cali.” The Spartans are going back to California to play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1987 season. After a disappointing 2012 campaign filled with close losses -- MSU dropped five Big Ten contests by a combined 13 points -- Mark Dantonio’s team made up the inches and became a complete team that won all nine of its Big Ten contests by 10 points or more this season.

“Pasadena, here we come,” said Spartans senior offensive tackle Fou Fonoti, a Lakewood, Calif., native. “I’ve got to show them In-N-Out [Burger], it’s a West Coast staple, Animal Style and all that. I’m excited.”

The nation’s No. 1 defense propelled Michigan State for most of the season and will be featured in Pasadena alongside Stanford’s equally hard-hitting crew. The 100th Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO boasts a traditional matchup of teams rooted in physical defense, the power run and solid special teams play.

Michigan State leads the nation in fewest yards allowed (248.2 ypg), rush yards allowed (80.8 ypg) and third-down conversions allowed (27.7 percent), and ranks second in pass efficiency defense and fourth in points allowed. Pat Narduzzi coordinates a unit featuring six All-Big Ten players, including an All-America candidate in senior cornerback Darqueze Dennard.

Elite defense is nothing new at MSU, but the team needed a complementary piece on offense and found one during Big Ten play. Sophomore quarterback Connor Cook came out of nowhere to earn second-team All-Big Ten honors, throw 20 touchdown passes against just five interceptions and win MVP honors in the Big Ten championship game. Cook and dynamic running back Jeremy Langford play behind a much-improved line that will be tested by Shayne Skov and Stanford. -- Adam Rittenberg

#CampusConnection: Primetime Live

December, 7, 2013
12/07/13
9:46
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The college football regular season has come down to this. Plenty is on the line tonight as the Pac-12, ACC and Big Ten hold their title games and we’ll be here with you every step of the way.

So head on over to Campus Connection at 7:45 ET and follow the action along with several of our on-site reporters, including Ted Miller (Pac-12), Andrea Adelson (ACC), David Hale (ACC), Brian Bennett (Big Ten) and Adam Rittenberg (Big Ten). Post your comments and questions and we’ll include as many of them as possible.

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David Shaw Talks Stanford Signing Day
Stanford coach David Shaw joins ESPN's Matt Schick to discuss the Cardinal's 2015 recruiting class and its top positional needs heading into the spring.
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