East Lansing — While some Michigan State supporters were fretting the fact the Spartans were passed over by rival Michigan in the bowl selection process, their coach wasn’t among them.
Michigan State, which finished No. 16 in the College Football Playoff rankings, will take on No. 18 Washington State in the Holiday Bowl at 9 p.m. Dec. 28 in San Diego.
“I would not say going to the Holiday Bowl is a big disappointment,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “I’m very excited about the opportunity, so that’s where we’re going to play. The Pac-12 and Big 10 have a great relationship, a historic relationship, so we better get ready to play.
“That’s all we’re focused on right now. Again, we’re excited the Holiday Bowl picked us to come and represent the Big Ten. San Diego is a tremendous place and I know about 15,000 to 20,000 people in Southern California that are very excited. We’re going to California and looking forward to it.”
Heading into the weekend, most projections had Michigan State (9-3) playing in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1 in Orlando. However, those projections all assumed the Big Ten champion would be in the playoff field. Ohio State’s win over Wisconsin in the conference title game on Saturday apparently knocked the entire conference out of the playoff, which bumped the Badgers down to the Orange Bowl. According to the Big Ten’s agreement, if a conference team is in the Orange Bowl that means there can’t be one in the Citrus Bowl.
The next bowl selecting was the Outback Bowl, which opted to go with Michigan (8-4), despite the fact Michigan State had a better record and a head-to-head victory over the Wolverines.
“The Outback Bowl basically had a popularity contest and because (Michigan) has Jim Harbaugh as their coach, they were picked,” said MSU fan Tim Doyle. “That's the most disappointing thing. It wasn't what was on the field that they chose.”
Said Luke Dionise, also an MSU fan: “It's a little annoying to be passed over by a Michigan team that MSU is clearly better than, with a better record and the head-to-head win in Ann Arbor.”
Dionise, however, was looking forward to the trip to San Diego.
"Looking at each bowl, though, it seems the only thing better about the Outback Bowl is the date," Dionise said. "The Outback Bowl is a pair of eight-win unranked teams, whereas the Holiday Bowl is a pair of nine-win top-20 teams. As a fan of the better team, I'm more than happy to be put in the better matchup. I'm sure I'll have a great time in San Diego."
Since the Big Ten and their bowl partners do not follow a strict pecking order when it comes to determining which teams play in which games, it allowed the Outback Bowl to select Michigan over Michigan State, which last played in Tampa after the 2011 season, getting a triple-overtime victory over Georgia.
Instead of heading to Florida, however, Michigan State gets set to make its first appearance in the Holiday Bowl and its first trip to California since beating Stanford in the Rose Bowl following the 2013 season.
“I just look at it as an opportunity to play in the Holiday Bowl,” Dantonio said. “The records are what they are. I’ll just continue to concentrate on beating Michigan and let things sort of sort out.
"All I do as a football coach every single week is get ready for the people that we are playing against. We look for a quality opponent to play against and I think that’s what we have. So I knew it would be one of three bowls, it just depended on how it shaked out and I thought all three bowl games gave us a great opportunity to showcase our talents and to play a great football team, so that’s where we’re going and we’ll get excited.”
Michigan State and Washington State have played seven times with Michigan State winning five. The last meeting came in 1977.
The Cougars (9-3) will play in the Holiday Bowl for the second straight season after losing, 17-12, last season to Minnesota.
Under sixth-year coach Mike Leach, Washington State won at least eight games for the third straight season after opening the year with six consecutive victories. The Cougars also had wins over then-No. 5 Southern Cal and Stanford, when it was ranked No. 18.
"Washington State is excited to be invited to the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl," WSU Interim Director of Athletics John Johnson said. "It is a first-class event and the staff treated us exceptionally well last season. San Diego is a wonderful destination for our fans and we look forward to celebrating the 40th year of the bowl game with a tremendous week of activities, culminating with a great bowl matchup against a storied program in Michigan State."
Dantonio and his staff have been busy recruiting this week, but he said the Spartans will have a couple of practices this weekend before taking final exams next week. After that, bowl preparation begins with the team likely heading to San Diego on Dec. 22.
“It’s gonna be crucial for our development, but I think as much as anything, playing another football game allows our guys to gain great experience,” Dantonio said. “Playing in a bowl game against a great opponent gives our guys additional experiences. The number of practices always does vary because it’s a fine line between overtraining and getting ready. But we’ll be ready to play that football game and we’ll start working on Washington State tomorrow.”
No. 16 Michigan State (9-3) vs. No. 18 Washington State (9-3)
Kickoff: 9 p.m. Dec. 28, SDCCU Stadium, San Diego
TV/radio: FS1/WJR 760
MSU BOWLS UNDER MARK DANTONIO
2007 Champs Sports Bowl: Boston College, L 24-21
2009 Capital One Bowl: Georgia, L 24-12
2010 Alamo Bowl: Texas Tech, L 41-31
2011 Capital One Bowl: Alabama, L 49-7
2012 Outback Bowl: Georgia, W 33-30 (3OT)
2012 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: TCU, W 17-16
2013 Rose Bowl; Stanford, W 24-20
2014 Cotton Bowl; Baylor, 42-41
2015 CFP Semifinal at Cotton Bowl: Alabama, L 38-0
2017 Holiday Bowl: Washington State