The last time Michigan State and Stanford played was in the 1996 Sun Bowl. The Cardinal won 38-0. The winning and losing coaches? Tyrone Willingham and Nick Saban, respectively, who went on to accomplish a few other things in the college football world.
Rule of Tree took an in-depth look back on the 1996 Sun Bowl.
As the game was ending, Gus Johnson talked about Saban. He was pretty right about this:
As the clock wound down, Gus Johnson said: "For the Spartans, as to what their head coach will be doing, he is a very hot prospect."
Saban would coach Michigan State for three more seasons before resigning to take the job at LSU.
As for this year's meeting in Pasadena, we should be in for a hard-nosed, grind-it-out affair at the Rose Bowl. Both teams ranked in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense, and while there is some firepower on offense, this will likely be a game determined in the trenches. The Only Colors weighed in on the defense in a recent Q&A:
More than anything, it's an aggressive system that forces college players to make plays that most of them can't. Add in the fact this defense is full of third-year starters, the entire defensive playbook was already put in before the season started.
This defense likes to blitz, use the safeties in the run game and keep the cornerbacks on islands. Wisconsin was able to move the ball on this defense in 2011 because of a combination of the power running game and Russell Wilson making all the right throws. I knew then that he'd be very successful in the NFL. Stanford has that power running game. It will be interesting to see how the passing game looks.
On Dec. 25, MSU announced middle linebacker Max Bullough was suspended for the game for undisclosed reasons. The Spartans' run defense up the middle was already a bit shaky, and Bullough's absence will only make things tougher on New Year's Day, as Stanford runs the ball early and often.
Bullough got in trouble once before, on spring break in 2011 before he was a starter, but has gone on to be a captain, an All-B1G player and an Academic All-American. For a senior captain with that track record to get suspended before the Rose Bowl, his final game (and with that lineage), I have no idea what could have happened. We may find out soon, given how serious this apparently is. There is a press conference Thursday. Perhaps we will learn more.
Rose Bowl tickets are always tough to come by, but this year's game is on a different level. It costs nearly $400 to just get inside the stadium, and halfway decent seats are going for upwards of $1,000. Both schools sold out their ticket allotments almost instantly, but there was some tricky maneuvering by Spartan fans to get their hands on a few extras:
The Cardinal quickly sold out their ticket allotment for the big game in Pasadena -- that's good news, right? Well, there's one problem. It may have sold out a little too quickly, and Michigan State fans may have taken advantage of a loophole to get their hands on some of their opponent's tickets:
Yet there is concern that Michigan State fans may have played some part in the limited ticket availability for the Rose Bowl. Some Spartans fans revealed that they had paid Stanford's season ticket deposit for access to guaranteed tickets in Stanford's allotment. Because of this, a smaller allotment of Stanford's tickets would have been available when the general sale later opened. That concern was fueled by the fact that the deposit for season tickets increased from $100 to $200 on Monday morning before the offer was later withdrawn altogether due to "high demand."
Stanford would go on to report 95 percent of their tickets were sold to Cardinal fans.