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Spartans will mix fun with business at Cotton Bowl

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Dallas — It's been four weeks since Michigan State played a football game, and following a few days off for the Christmas break, the Spartans are ready to get back on the field.

Michigan State arrived on Friday for its New Year's Day matchup with No. 5 Baylor in the Cotton Bowl, and as much as the players and coaches will be looking to enjoy themselves, they're more focused on getting down to business.

"The tone is, it's time to get back to business," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said at the Hilton Anatole, the team's downtown headquarters. "The tone is focus, attention to detail, all those different things that go along with winning, and that's what we've got to do. So we want to have a great time, want to make it a life experience like we have every other bowl game, but at the same time, I think we understand what lies ahead of us and the challenge that lies."

That challenge began in earnest with the team's first practice Friday afternoon and will continue through Wednesday with a team walk-through.

"You dust the rust off a little bit, knock the rust off and we've got to be fresh when we play," Dantonio said. "We'll work down here for three hard days and ease back and make sure we have our legs next Thursday, and I think that's key, have your legs. Gonna see a lot of deep balls, a lot of running, there's gonna be a lot of action."

But as Dantonio pointed out, there will be plenty of fun mixed in.

When he and two of Michigan State's captains arrived for the press briefing on Friday, fifth-year senior guard Travis Jackson was wearing a cowboy hat he said belonged to his coach. And he and his fellow offensive linemen were looking to eat.

"We got off the plane and were like, 'when's lunch?' " Jackson joked. "But we're excited to be down here and enjoy everything about this bowl game. They've got a lot of things planned for us and the hospitality has been second to none. I want to get into the culture here and really enjoy being down south."

None of that, however, takes away from the true focus of being in Dallas.

"We are excited to be down here, and we are going to enjoy it," Jackson said. "We have to remember we have to compete big-time against Baylor. We are excited to be down here, and we've got a week to enjoy things. But we've got to get ready for the game."

Healthy

Michigan State enters the game against Baylor fairly healthy, at least as much as it was when bowl practice began.

"Everybody made the trip," Dantonio said. "We have not lost anybody for the football game."

Jackson, who missed the regular-season finale against Penn State with a leg injury, said he is 100 percent and will play against Baylor

"Yeah, I got to go through full practice last week," Jackson said. "I'm excited to play in this game."

Lots of snaps for Lippett

He might not play the 113 plays Chris Gamble did, but Tony Lippett will be busy against Baylor.

Gamble played offense and defense at Ohio State when Dantonio was the defensive coordinator there and the coach remembers several games Gamble played more than 100 snaps. That might not be the case for Lippett, who had 60 receptions for 1,124 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, and will also start on defense.

"Tony will start at corner, yeah," Dantonio said. "He'll start and we're looking forward to that. And obviously he won't play the whole game there, but he will start and gives us another viable player to play at corner."

'Wait til you see it'

AT&T Stadium, site of the Cotton Bowl, is also know as "Jerry's World," a nod to the Dallas Cowboys owner who had the 80,000-seat stadium built.

It will be the first time in the building for most of the Spartans.

"I've just heard from people who've been down there, 'Wait til you see it,' " Dantonio said. "I talked to (Oklahoma coach) Bob Stoops and (Texas A&M coach) Kevin Sumlin and a lot of other coaches. Just talked about how unique the atmosphere was.

"So we're looking forward to practicing over there and going over and playing as well. It should be a great experience for our football team and, you know, I think when you go to games like this, or any bowl game, you want to make life experiences for your players."

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

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