Reaching Rose not enough for MSU, B1G

LOS ANGELES -- During Michigan State's Rose Bowl media day, several players huddled around the game's championship trophy, posing for pictures with their smartphones.

Spartans defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, standing several feet away, sighed and shook his head.

"Guys, guys," Narduzzi told the players, "save that for after the game."

MSU players enjoyed their media-day experience, part of their week in the glitzy L.A. spotlight as they prepare for the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO. After years of hard work and falling just shy of a BCS bowl appearance, the Spartans deserved the right to live it up.

But there's a fine line between enjoying the Rose Bowl experience and simply being happy to be here. The Big Ten's historic struggles in the game raise the question of whether too many of its teams fall in the latter category.

The Rose Bowl, with its unmatched history and tradition, still carries tremendous prestige in the Big Ten, particularly for programs like Michigan State that haven't appeared in the game for more than a quarter-century. Simply reaching the game is a big accomplishment, and the Spartans' season, win or lose on Wednesday, will be labeled a success. But there's a lot at stake, at least there should be, for a conference that has captured just one Rose Bowl (after the 2009 season) since a strong run in the 1990s.

"It's important that we play and make sure that people understand we belong," MSU coach Mark Dantonio said Monday. "That's a big risk saying that right now, I understand that. But you need to step out there and dream big."

Whether the B1G dreams big enough in its signature postseason game is up for debate. The league is 1-9 in its last 10 Rose Bowl appearances. It won seven of eight Rose Bowls from the 1992 season through the 1999 season, but before that dropped 19 of its previous 23 appearances.

"It's a little bit like we're in the desert, and we'd like to get a glass of water," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany told Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel. "We'd like to get a win."

Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis, like many native Midwesterners, has a lifelong love for the Rose Bowl. A 1985 Michigan State graduate, Hollis was working for the Western Athletic Conference during the 1987 season, assigned to staff the Freedom Bowl at Anaheim Stadium.

He stuck around a few days longer to watch his alma mater defeat USC in the 1988 Rose Bowl. To Hollis, the Rose Bowl "says what college sports is all about."

"This is the environment we want to be preparing for each camp, each spring ball," Hollis said. "Here we are, realizing that vision. I want to have a program that, come August, you're expecting this at the end of every season.

"I'll be walking out there and rubbing my shoes on that red paint. It's pretty cool that we're realizing what we set out to do."

But is getting there enough? Does the Big Ten make winning the Rose Bowl enough of a priority?

"It's tough for a Big Ten team to come here, whether it's regular season or a bowl game," Hollis said. "It's tough to go to Florida and play an SEC team every year. That's a road game. We hope our fan base swings that a little bit, takes away the time-zone change and the glitz and glamour of the West Coast, which the kids from Stanford are used to and we're not.

"It's hard to play these games, but our focus is winning, not only for ourselves but for the Big Ten."