LOS ANGELES -- The 100th edition of the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO is finally here, as No. 4 Michigan State (12-1) takes on No. 5 Stanford (11-2).
Let's dive in ...
WHO TO WATCH: Michigan State linebackers Kyler Elsworth and Darien Harris. The biggest personnel issue entering the game is how the Spartans replace All-Big Ten middle linebacker and co-captain Max Bullough, who was suspended last week and didn't travel with the team. Elsworth, a senior used mostly on special teams, likely will get the start, although Harris also will play. Bullough brilliantly handled the play calls and much of the communication on defense, so his leadership will be missed. Stanford presents a lot of different looks with its offensive line groupings, so Elsworth and Harris will need to make sure their teammates are in the right places. There are plenty of veteran, multiyear starters throughout Michigan State's defense who also need to step up in Bullough's absence.
WHAT TO WATCH: The quarterbacks. Both defenses are extremely sound and both teams love to run the ball, but quarterback play often makes the difference in a game that looks pretty close on paper. Stanford's Kevin Hogan has been here before, helping the Cardinal to a win in the 2013 Rose Bowl. He had some ups and downs this season but comes off of a strong performance (277 pass yards on just 12 completions, 1 TD) in the Pac-12 championship game against Arizona State. Michigan State's Connor Cook is a stranger to the Rose Bowl stage but looked comfortable in the Big Ten championship game against Ohio State, recording a career-high 304 pass yards and three touchdowns and winning MVP honors. Both defenses can take away the opposing run games, so which quarterback makes clutch throws and limits mistakes?
WHY TO WATCH: If you really need a reason, pick another sport. It's the 100th Rose Bowl featuring two top-five teams with similar hard-hitting styles, excellent coaches and tremendous defenses. Stanford entered the season with national championship aspirations and can reaffirm what might have been with a second consecutive Rose Bowl win in its fourth straight BCS bowl appearance. Michigan State makes its first trip to Pasadena in 26 years and carries the banner of a beleaguered Big Ten Conference that has dropped nine of the past 10 Rose Bowls. A victory would cap Michigan State's most successful season since the back-to-back national title teams in 1965-66. The Rose Bowl enters the playoff rotation next fall, so the traditional Pac-12 versus Big Ten matchup won't be guaranteed.
PREDICTION: Stanford 21, Michigan State 17. Stanford's BCS bowl experience pays off as the Cardinal limit mistakes and force some Michigan State turnovers to win a hard-hitting nail-biter.