PASADENA, Calif. (GMC) -- During these past four seasons -- inarguably the greatest four-season stretch in the history of Stanford football -- the final game has not always gone in the Cardinal's favor, and so it was that Stanford fell to Michigan State in the 100th Rose Bowl.
There are probably a dozen great things about playing in a bowl game, but one of the biggest is the opportunity to play a team that isn't normally on the schedule. Stanford's recent run of success has featured bowl matchups with Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma State, and Wisconsin, four of the most successful programs in college football.
Wednesday's Rose Bowl adds Michigan State to that list. In many ways, the Spartans are a carbon copy of the Cardinal. Just as Stanford upset Oregon, the team everyone thought would win the Pac-12 and advance to the BCS championship game, Michigan State did the same thing to Ohio State.
But the similarities between the two teams run deeper than those on-field results. Like Stanford, Michigan State boasts one the nation's top defenses, and they entered the bowl season with the top run defense in the country (Stanford ranked #3). Like Stanford, the Spartans are led on offense by a dominant running back, Jeremy Langford, who has put together a string of hundred-yard games. Like Stanford, the Spartans have a quarterback, Connor Cook, who will make defenses pay for overcommitting to the run.
Aside from the BCS championship game, this throw-back Rose Bowl is the most compelling matchup of the bowl season, and it could turn out to be the best game. For a deeper look at Michigan State, I leave you in the capable hands of Hondo S. Carpenter, the founder and publisher of SpartanNation.com, probably the best place to look for news and information on the Spartans. (I'd also recommend following him on Twitter: @HondoCarpenter) Hondo's a good guy. Even after enduring a week without power, Hondo was still kind enough to answer some of my questions about his boys in Green and White. Enjoy! (You can also read my answers to Spartan versions of these same questions over on Hondo's site.)
Stanford will play Arizona State on Saturday evening in the Pac-12 Championship game, and the winner will represent the conference in the 100th Rose Bowl in Pasadena on January 1st. Simple.
But which team will be standing on the shady side of the stadium that afternoon? Much more complicated. [Editor's Note: That's what I thought when I started writing. It actually turned out to be quite simple, but I'll let you read on to find out how I got there.]
Here's what we know. Ohio State and Michigan State will play in the Big Ten Championship game, also on Saturday. If Michigan State wins, the Spartans will travel west to play in the Granddaddy for the first time in twenty-six years. Simple.
But here's where things get complicated. [Editor's Note: Again, not really.] If the undefeated and #2 ranked Buckeyes win on Saturday, there are several different possibilities, and I'll do my best to lay them out in a way that makes sense. [Editor's Note: There is really only one realistic possibility.] Please stick with me, though. I'll wrap things up in the end in a way that makes sense. Hopefully. [Editor's Note: It makes perfect sense. You'll see.]
It wasn't until I was deep into my thirties that I finally understood what was meant by the phrase "not seeing the forest for the trees." After all, if you're looking at the trees, how can you not see the forest?
This phenomenon manifests itself in sports constantly. When your focus lies solely on your own team, you tend to see the flaws without realizing that the strengths far outweigh what is lacking. Even more importantly, you don't compare, say, your team's offensive line to other offensive lines around the country, but instead you measure it against an unattainable ideal that resides only in your head.
Stanford fans are guilty of this. There has been a fair amount of angst spreading through the ranks of Nerd Nation over the past few weeks, with concerns ranging from the quarterback to the coaching staff to the tight ends to the mounting injuries on the defensive side of the ball. The reality, of course, is that this Stanford team is quite good. According to this week's BCS rankings, they are the fifth-best team in the nation and one of probably only seven teams that can realistically dream of a national championship.
Here's Wade Gupta, one of the geniuses behind Toby the Van. If you've never checked out their tailgate, put it on your list of things to do next fall. Incredibly cool.
Greg Herrera, perhaps the most dedicated Stanford fan in the stadium, and he was sitting just two rows in front of me. (The details put this over the top -- note the Axes on the back of his "helmet".) He's worn this getup to two BCS bowl games in a row, and after Tuesday night's victory he looked ahead to the possiblity of next year's national championship. "If we make the championship game, I'll get this thing tattooed on!"
Confetti flies in the moments following the win. I suppose they used red, white, and green because those are Rose Bowl colors, but since it was Stanford vs. Wisconsin -- both red and white -- don't you think they could've loaded their cannons with red and white confetti? Would've been a lot cooler. Still, it was pretty cool. I think I want a confetti cannon for Christmas this year.
And finally, your humble correspondent. Go Mighty Card!
The Rose Bowl is three weeks from today, believe it or not, and there's been a fair amount of news out of Madison as the Badgers prepare to head west to take on our Mighty Card. A head coach has defected, a legend has decided to temporarily take his place, and -- shocker! -- Boise State's Chris Peterson sits atop Wisconsin's wish list. (As an aside, what exactly does Peterson have to do to convince people he's staying in Boise?)
But back to the Rose Bowl. As I continue to scour the globe for the greatest minds in Badger Nation, I've come across Mike Fiammetta from Bucky's 5th Quarter, a comprehensive Wisconsin site, and he happily agreed to chat. (And if you're wondering what the 5th Quarter is, just keep reading.) Mike sheds light on Wisconsin's mysterious five losses, explains their huge showing in the Big Ten championship game, and makes a prediction in the end. Great stuff, top to bottom. Enjoy!
Yes, I realize the Rose Bowl is almost a month away, but it's never too early to start thinking about Wisconsin. Stanford and Wisconsin squared off in the 2000 Rose Bowl, and while Stanford fans are likely looking for a little payback, I'm not sure the revenge angle will resonate in a locker room full of players who would have had to hold their mothers' hands to cross the street to get to that game.
Either way, I'll have a lot of material here in the coming weeks previewing what promises to be a great game between the Cardinal and the Badgers, and I'm hoping to feature a variety of experts to give their opinions about both sides. First up is Andy Coppens from Madtown Badgers.
Since Wisconsin plays in the far-off Big Ten and their games this year usually kicked off while I was still rubbing the sleep out of my eyes and hustling my daughter off to her soccer game, I thought it might make sense to start with an introduction to the Badgers and their fans. Don't worry, though. We'll dig deeper as the game gets closer. For now, meet the Badgers!
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