Michigan State finished in a three-way tie for the Big Ten title, then watched as fellow co-champions Wisconsin and Ohio State snapped up BCS bids. The seventh-ranked Spartans will settle for a New Year's Day game against former Michigan State coach Nick Saban and 15th-ranked Alabama.
"I know the TV sets are going to turn on," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said. "I would estimate that this game will rival, if not win out over most of the BCS ratings when it's all said and done."
In four years, Mark Dantonio has won a Big Ten title, compiled an enviable record in rivalry games, and moved MSU toward the upper echelon of the Big Ten. The only major accomplishment still left unchecked is a bowl win; given that MSU has been matched up against one of the sport's highest-profile teams, Dantonio has an opportunity to get that monkey off his back in a highly-emphatic fashion.
"Do I like coaching against Jim Tressel or any of these people?" Dantonio said when asked about coaching against Saban. "No, because they're your friends, too, but it's a unique situation, and the competitiveness in you as a person sort of takes hold of you a little bit. It's not about one coach against another coach; it's about an entire team."
Dantonio had kind words about his former boss, crediting him for bringing him onto his staff at MSU in 1995.
"As a defensive coach, Coach Saban has probably been my biggest mentor as a coach," Dantonio said. "I had the opportunity to come here, and I probably sit here now as a head football coach because of him bringing me here. Bobby Williams has been great, too, to me and my family."
The game pairs two of the nation’s smartest and classiest quarterbacks in Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins and Alabama’s Greg McElroy as well as two of the nation’s most accomplished defenders in Michigan State’s Greg Jones and Alabama’s Marcell Dareus. Jones and the Spartans’ run defense face arguably their biggest test of the season against reigning Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, a native of Flint, Mich., as well as dynamic sophomore Trent Richardson.
"There are a lot of lessons to be learned from what happened this season. I don't think having a dominant program is something you inherit. It's something you learn how to do," Saban added. "I think a lot of lessons were learned this season by what we did and didn't do. We didn't play as a dominant team for 60 minutes in some games. That affects the outcome. One of the things we should have learned is that we're only better than the other guy when we're playing at our best. We need to play our best all the time, and hopefully we learned that."
"We’ve come a long way," Dantonio said. "We’ve had a storybook-type season. We’ve fought through some adversity, won some close games, we’ve come back, so we’ve done a lot of different things. We’re an 11-1 football team, so where that takes us we’ll go. The thing we want to make sure we understand as a football program is our No. 1 goal is to win the Big Ten championship. We were able to accomplish that.
"I feel like we’re playing a championship-caliber football team. I feel like this is going to be a great matchup that’s going to turn on TV sets all over the country."
"It is going to be exciting for us to go to Orlando and play in a New Year's Day bowl game," Ingram said Sunday night in a news release. "I grew up a Michigan State fan, so it will be very exciting for me and my family just to go out, play in the game and for them to watch it. But they (Michigan State) are the other team now."