Dec. 24, 2012
By Steve Grinczel, Online Columnist
TEMPE, Ariz. - There's almost nothing normal about playing a postseason college football game in late December. The neutral venue is typically far away from each team's campus, practices are held in unfamiliar locations and at odd times and the game is weeks removed from the regular-season finale.
However, with Michigan State playing TCU on Saturday in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, the Spartans' routine is as close to normal as a bowl week can be, aside from a few distractions head coach Mark Dantonio pointed out shortly after the team touched down at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix Monday afternoon.
After the team was treated to a red-carpet welcome on the tarmac by a throng of Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl representatives wearing yellow sport jackets, a mariachi band and other bowl supporters, Dantonio said the team is excited about being in Arizona, many for the first time.
"There are a lot of things our players have not seen before, the mountains..., and the sun," said Dantonio who evoked a chorus of laughs while referencing the gray skies, snow and 30-degree temperatures the Spartans left behind in East Lansing.
There's also Christmas to work in and daily team functions, but at least Monday isn't Saturday which was the case 12 months ago when MSU defeated Georgia in the Outback Bowl - a New Year's Day bowl that was played on Jan. 2.
"We're really right on schedule," Dantonio said. "We gave our guys three days off and will come back and do a little something out at our practice facility today. Then we'll get right back into it Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, walk-through on Friday and play the game on Saturday.
"It's as much like a game week for us as we can possibly make it in a bowl situation."
The Spartans went through a light workout in T-shirts, shorts and cleats on Monday at Corona del Sol High School, which boasts a stadium on par with those of many small colleges and a separate well-manicured practice field.
The weather conditions were comparable to a perfect early fall football Saturday in Spartan Stadium, and Dantonio is confident 6-6 MSU will be in a sound football frame of mind while trying to put this season on the winning side of the record book.
"We've got great chemistry on our football team," Dantonio said. "There's no question we didn't end up with the record we thought we would, but we lost five games by a total of 13 points in that span.
"We're good. Our players are expecting to win - we always do every time we come out. There are a lot of different things they're going to experience out here and we want them to have a great time but our folks will be up for a challenge."
The Spartans will face a TCU team that has posted a 6-1 record in its last seven bowls and Horned Frog head coach Gary Patterson said he spells fun, "W-I-N," at his airport press conference.
"When you spend a lot of time trying to get ready for a football game, you want to win that football game and it propels that football team into 2013 in this case," Dantonio said. "Winning is at the forefront of what we want to do here and that's been emphasized quite often as of late.
"It's going to make or break us right now. It's going make a difference between a winning team and a losing team right now. We have to be realistic about it, look at that aspect and deal with it. I've always tried to just deal with the consequences with where we're at, and that's where we're at."
Dantonio also pointed out the standard Michigan State has established in his six seasons at the helm. Regardless of the how a previous game ended up, the Spartans have almost never come out flat, overconfident or overmatched.
"Our football has always come to play and I think that's one thing we've been able to do with the foundation of our program," he said. "Whether we've lost in the last second or won in that last second, we try to take the approach that every single game is a different time.
"As long as you're dealing in the present and looking forward, that's all I can ask of our football team. Our focus will be on winning the football game and I'd agree with W-I-N."