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Duane Cross | | December 31, 2013

Rose Bowl promises more than exciting fundamental football


PASADENA, Calif. -- Before folks are “looking live” at the 100th Rose Bowl from Pasadena, as Brent Musberger is most certain to open the ESPN broadcast (5 p.m. ET Wednesday), the given is that Michigan State and Stanford have earned their spot in this BCS game.

Strip away the polls, the computer rankings and all the trappings that go into determining the BCS-worthy teams. Instead, focus on the teams -- the players, the coaches -- and how their blood, sweat and tears have led them to 1001 Rose Bowl Dr.

If coachspeak is a harbinger, we’re in for four quarters of very exciting fundamental football:

Spartans ready to make most out of return

Mark Dantonio: “We're very excited about coming to the 100th Rose Bowl.”

David Shaw: “We, too, are also very excited about this trip to Pasadena.”

Dantonio: “They're extremely well coached, fundamental team, and they parallel a lot of the things that I think we believe in as an offensive and defensive football team.”

Shaw: “You're going to talk about probably two of the better coached teams as far as fundamentals and as far as doing things right and doing things well in the nation.”

But that’s what coaches are supposed to say; it keeps the wolves at bay and ensures no bulletin board material for their opponent.

So what can we expect when toe meets leather?

Spartans feature nation’s top-ranked D

• Michigan State’s defense ranks No. 1 in the FBS (248.2 yards per game), rushing defense (80.8 ypg.) and opponent third-down conversions (.277). The Spartans’ D also ranks among the elite in pass efficiency (second, 91.5 rating), first downs (fourth, 14.5 pg.), scoring (fourth, 12.7 ppg.) and passing (sixth, 167.4 ypg.).

The Cardinal D isn’t too shabby, either

• Stanford leads the nation with 40 sacks and ranks 12th in tackles for loss (7.5/game). In fact, the Cardinal has at least one tackle for loss in its past 48 contests and at least one sack in 32 of its past 33 outings.

(The only game without a sack came Sept. 14 at Army, which attempted just 10 passes.)

MSU’s first top-five matchup since Nov. 19, 1966

• The Rose Bowl will be the first time since the “Game of the Century” in 1966 --  top-ranked Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Michigan State -- in which the Spartans play a top-five AP team while also being ranked in the top five.

(Michigan State and Notre Dame tied 10-10. MSU and Notre Dame finished 9-0-1 with the Irish winning the AP title and the Spartans ranked No. 2 – both ahead of 11-0-0 and two-time defending national champion Alabama.)

Stanford O-line holds its own

• Stanford’s offensive line has been whistled for just two holding penalties this season, and just one from the line of scrimmage (covering 832 offensive snaps). The one penalty from the line of scrimmage negated a touchdown and forced a field goal against Notre Dame.

Also, the Cardinal O-line has paved the way for 2,742 rushing yards, 95 yards shy of the school record set in 2009.

Class warfare – offensively and defensively

• Michigan State offense: four seniors, two juniors, three sophomores, two freshmen vs. Stanford defense: seven seniors, three juniors, one sophomore.

• Michigan State defense: six seniors, three juniors, two sophomores vs. Stanford offense: six seniors, three juniors, two sophomores.

Keep an eye on these guys

Michigan State leaders:
• Rushing – Jeremy Langford (269 carries, 1,338 yards, 17 TDs)
• Passing – Connor Cook (201 of 344, 2,423 yards, 20 TDs, 5 INTs)
• Receiving – Tony Lippett (39 catches, 519 yards, 1 TD); Macgarrett Kings Jr. (39 catches, 461 yards, 3 TDs)
• Tackles – Denicos Allen (91 tackles, 39 solos, 52 assists, 15.0 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 10 QB hurries)

Stanford leaders:
• Rushing – Tyler Gaffney (306 carries, 1,618 yards, 20 TDs)
• Passing – Kevin Hogan (170 of 277, 2,487 yards, 20 TDs, 9 INTs)
• Receiving – Ty Montgomery (58 catches, 937 yards, 10 TDs)
• Tackles – Shayne Skov (100 tackles, 56 solos, 44 assists, 10.0 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 10 QB hurries)

Famous faces in Lansing and L.A.

• Earvin Johnson was an All-American at Michigan State and led the Spartans to the 1979 basketball championship. He was drafted by the Los Angeles and won five NBA titles with the Lakers. Johnson now is part of the ownership group of the L.A. Dodgers.

• Speaking of the Dodgers, who can forget Kirk Gibson’s dramatic bottom-of-the-ninth home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series? In addition to winning a title with the ’88 Dodgers, Gibson was part of the Detroit Tigers’ championship team in 1984. Before that, Gibby was an All-American in football and baseball for the Spartans.

Back-to-back #Nerd championships

• Georgia, Rice Stanford and Tulane shared the American Football Coaches Association’s 2013 Academic Achievement Award. The four schools recorded a 100 percent graduation rate for members of its freshman football student-athlete class of 2006. This is the second honor for Stanford, which also won the award in 2012.

#Nerd – that’s Stanford’s hashtag, not ours …

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