Dec. 28, 2013
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist | @GrinzOnGreen
LOS ANGELES - Michigan State's Rose Bowl agenda is loaded to the hilt.
First and foremost is beating Stanford in the 100th edition of the game on Jan. 1.
"Everybody knows the goal is to come here and win the Rose Bowl and not to just be named the participant of the Rose Bowl," said All-American cornerback Darqueze Dennard.
Then, the Spartans are playing their first BCS game in school history for everyone who's ever been associated with the program in any way, shape or form.
"It means everything," Dennard said. "It's the granddaddy of them all like everybody says. It's a big stage for us, but we're also playing for past teammates and past coaches, and also for the Spartan Nation.
"(It's for) past players, such as Kirk Cousins and Trent Robinson, and all the guys before us that played and never had the chance to play for the Rose Bowl." Michigan State is also playing for the pride of the Big Ten, which has endured unflattering criticism in recent seasons.
"Most definitely," said strong safety Isaiah Lewis. "It's the Big Ten Conference. I feel like we can compete with any conference. I think it's not realistic to say it's not one of the best conferences in the country."
And finally, the Spartans are playing for an even better place in history than their unprecedented 12-1 record and Big Ten Championship currently affords them.
"You know, is it an `A' legacy or a `B' legacy?" asked assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. "They got here, and it's the first time since 1988 they got here. We didn't come here just to play in the game; we came here to win.
"We told our guys in practice in East Lansing, you're going to be remembered for what you do in your last game. They're not going to remember that Ohio State (Big Ten Championship) game. They going to remember what you did out in Pasadena, and it's probably going to be the game you guys will remember the most, too."
GoG Notes & Quotes: One of the hallowed traditions of the Rose Bowl is the teams' participation in the Lawry's Beef Bowl. A Lawry's official said the storied restaurant no longer weighs the prime rib each team eats and declares a winner because "we don't want it to be a competition," but that didn't stop MSU center Travis Jackson from providing a scouting report on the Spartans' most competitive eaters.
With head coach Mark Dantonio looking on with maybe his biggest sustained smile of the season, Jackson announced to the media that "I've got our top five for the Beef Bowl. We have the four Meat Squad members, and then we have Shawn Kamm. So, I want to profile those guys for you:
- "We've got a strong eater in Zach Higgins, today. A lot of girth, huge chest, great shoulders. It allows for a huge frame on his stomach which is great for us. We're excited about him.
- "We've got Jack Conklin. He looks kind of skinny but he has a lot of weight to him. He's a really tall guy so we think he's going to put a lot down for us today.
- "We have Kodi Kieler who packs it in well. He's a bigger-sized guy, a 300-plus guy who's going to be a special eater for us today.
- "Then we round it off with Benny McGowan, who is really a strength guy. He'll push forward and also has endurance.
- "Then we have to look at a guy who was our wing-eating champion last year (at the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl), Shawn Kamm. A seasoned veteran and that's what we're really excited about, seeing him get after it. And, he has a really great mustache which only can push him forward.
- "My dark horse, who's a fifth-year guy, is Dan France. He can put a lot down but he's lost a little weight recently, so we're a little nervous about that."
In the end, it was the "seasoned veteran" Kamm who ate the most, with five plates of prime rib.
The traditions are what set the Rose Bowl apart from every other bowl.
"I think the Rose Bowl is the top of the ladder for us," Dantonio said. "I think every football team, every young person that plays in the Big Ten aspires to be in the Rose Bowl someday. It's a dream come true. We talk to our players about dreaming big, and we've got an opportunity and a great challenge with Stanford ahead of us on Jan. 1.
"It's a special place, it's a BCS venue and we have so many people doing so many things in a first-class way. I think it's one of the things we talk about when we go to a place like California, and L.A., and being at the Rose Bowl. It's the events like this that take it over the top. It's another life moment for us."
Narduzzi did a double-take with a reporter unfamiliar with his disdain for statistics and rankings.
"Which of your defense's stats impressed you the most this year?" the reporter asked.
"Where are you from?" Narduzzi asked back.
"I cover Stanford," the reporter answered.
"OK, being that you cover Stanford, you probably don't know my quotes like the guys from Michigan know - I would say stats are for losers. Really not impressed with stats. Impressed with wins. Most impressive one was those 12 wins. I wanted 13. That's the most unimpressive thing."
For example, Narduzzi would readily trade the defense's No. 1 national ranking for a victory against Notre Dame, which defeated MSU 17-13 in South Bend.
"I guess we've got a pretty good defense because we're here in L.A.," he said. "If we'd have gotten a little bit more pass rush against Notre Dame, maybe we'd be here a week later (in the national championship game at the Rose Bowl). Then we could have enjoyed Christmas at home. I didn't get to have Christmas dinner at my house, so that's kind of disappointing."
The Spartans departed Lansing on Christmas Day.