Stanford Cardinal (11-2) vs. Michigan State Spartans (12-1)
Wednesday, Jan. 1, 5:00 p.m. EST, ESPN
Line: Stanford by 1.5
How Stanford got here: The Cardinal were a considered by many to be a legitimate title contender, but losses to Utah (27-21) and USC (20-17) kept them out of the conversation. Stanford did take down Arizona State twice — including a 38-14 win on the road in the Pac-12 title game. The Cardinal also have Oregon’s number as they downed the Ducks 26-20. In the end, Stanford defeated seven ranked teams, including Notre Dame (27-20).
How Michigan State got here: The Spartans are a 17-13 loss to Notre Dame from playing in the BCS National Championship instead of their first Rose Bowl since 1988. Michigan State has relied on a stingy defense to finish the season with nine straight wins. Sparty upset Ohio State in the Big Ten title game 34-24 to earn the Rose Bowl berth. State also has solid wins over Michigan (29-6), Nebraska (41-28) and Iowa (26-14).
For Stanford to win: The Cardinal need to avoid the mental lapse that they endured against Utah. If Stanford can run their physical, wear-you-down offense it’s going to be tough even for Michigan State’s defense.
For Michigan State to win: The defense can’t dwell on the suspension Max Bullough, who is easily the unit’s leader. The Spartans will still be a tough defense and should give Stanford fits.
Key Player (Stanford): Tyler Gaffney, RB. Gaffney isn’t flashy, but he’s reliable and his bruising running style helps wear down defenses. He’ll be facing the nation’s best defense, so we’ll see how he fares. He currently has 1,618 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns.
Key Player (Michigan State): Jeremy Langford, RB. Langford has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in eight consecutive games. He enters the Rose Bowl with 1,338 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. He hasn’t faced a defense like Stanford’s, though (unless you count what he faces in practice).
Key Stat: 1996 Sun Bowl. That is the last time these two programs met in a bowl game and it was pretty lopsided in favor of Stanford as the Cardinal won 38-0.