East Lansing – Michigan State was one of the youngest teams in the country this season, so every practice counts.
The Spartans can have up to 15 more as they prepare to take on Washington State in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 28. And whether coach Mark Dantonio opts to use all 15 or not, it’s a chance for a team that relied heavily on freshmen and sophomores to gain critical experience.
“Yeah, it's going to be crucial for our development,” Dantonio said. “I think, as much as anything, playing another football game allows our guys to gain great experience and playing a bowl game against a great opponent gives our guys additional experiences.
“The bowl numbers of practices, that always does vary, because there's a fine line between over-training and getting ready, so we'll be ready to play that football game and we'll start working on Washington State (this week).”
Dantonio was expected to run the Spartans (9-3) through a couple of workouts this weekend beginning on Friday before the team takes a break next week for final exams. The preparation to face the Cougars at the end of the month will begin in earnest at that point.
It’s something Michigan State did not benefit from last season as it missed a bowl game for the first time under Dantonio. But a team that features more than 70 underclassmen, including 13 projected starters, can use all the work it can get. That goes especially for the 13 true freshmen that have played this season.
It’s all part of rebuilding the program that led to 10 straight bowl games, including a spot in the 2015 College Football Playoff.
“We're used to being there,” Dantonio said. “We have a football team that was in the playoffs two years ago, so that's a positive for everybody. Everybody can draw on that and understand that culture that's here and understand the substance in how we've played over a period of time. Obviously, we didn't play in a bowl game last year and we sort of got ourselves squared away and pushed back up to the top.
“So, I think it's very important. We probably have 60 players-plus that have not had a bowl experience. I think it's very important that they have that experience, and enjoy that experience but understand that it's about winning football games.
“So we're going to focus on what we can and make sure that we come out of there with a 10th win. Not too many people in the country have the opportunity to win 10 games.”
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