Dallas — As Michigan State has prepared to face No. 5 Baylor in the Cotton Bowl on Thursday, most of the attention has been on how the Spartans plan to slow down the highest-scoring offense in the nation.
But on the other side of the ball, the Baylor offense is just as focused on figuring out a way to put up close to the 48.8 points a game it has been averaging this season against one of the best defenses in the nation.
"They're one of the best, if not the best, defensive line in the Big Ten," Baylor left tackle Spencer Drango said. "So it's definitely going to be a challenge for us. … They're similar in mindset to Kansas State where they're very disciplined, don't make many mistakes, and then they got big bodies up front but they're quick. From an offensive line standpoint, we like the slower guys who can't move very well and everything. But they're a very good team up front, so it will be a good challenge for us."
Michigan State has been a top-10 defense in each of the last four seasons and is rated sixth overall entering Thursday. But the fast, high-tempo offenses have given them trouble this season, especially in its only two losses to Oregon and Ohio State.
It's been the one thing the Spartans have focused on the past few weeks — dealing with the speed and tempo of the Bears.
However, Baylor understands it is facing as good a unit as it has seen all season.
"We do feel like they're a very, very good defense," Baylor offensive coordinator Kendal Briles said. "They are sound and know what they're doing. They stop the run very well, and they've got great corners. So we know it's going to be a challenge for us, but we've got pretty good skilled guys on offense."
One of those skilled guys is senior quarterback Bryce Petty, who has thrown for more than 3,300 yards with 26 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
He also likened the Michigan State defense to Kansas State, which Baylor beat in the final week of the regular season.
"It speaks for itself, they're top-10 in the nation," Petty said. "It's going to be like the Kansas State week. It's going to be about little successes. They're not going to give up big plays."
Home game for Baylor
Michigan State has made a habit the past few seasons of winning on the road. Since 2010, the Spartans are 16-3 in road games played in the Big Ten and 23-9 in the eight years Dantonio has been the head coach.
That ability to overcome the home crowd will be especially important against Baylor in the Cotton Bowl. That's because the Bears are only about 100 miles from their campus in Waco, Texas. And playing at AT&T Stadium is nothing new for Baylor, which defeated Texas A&M at the home of the Dallas Cowboys on Nov. 29.
"We've been here and played a few times," Baylor coach Art Briles said. "But (Michigan State) is going to work out there every day. And the time they get in there two or three times, I mean, it will feel just like it will feel for us.
"It is a great football venue."
Michigan State might have gotten past the newness of playing in the impressive stadium by Thursday, but the Bears have the advantage of jumping right into practice without wide eyes.
"We've played in it a couple years now," Petty said. "That part is good for us. There is not anything new. We've played in it before. We know the ins and outs of it. It is not the Taj Mahal anymore, I guess, if you look at it that way. The first time you go in there, everybody is looking at how big it is. For us, we have been here before.
"It will be like our home turf."
Still up in the air
Michigan State junior cornerback Trae Waynes is no closer to deciding if he wants to head to the NFL a year early or come back next year for his senior season.
One thing he is certain about, the departure of defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi to Pittsburgh and the promotion of secondary coach Harlon Barnett and linebackers coach Mike Tressel will have no bearing on his decision.
"I haven't really decided on what to do," Waynes said on Sunday. "But even with the change, if I did come back it wouldn't really have an impact on what I did.
Narduzzi isn't sure which way Waynes will go, but he thinks either choice will be a good one for the Thorpe Award finalist.
"I'd say I'm kind of sitting right in the middle," Narduzzi said. "I could fall either side of the fence. In my talks with him, he could go or he could stay. He loves college football, he loves what he's doing, he loves school. He's not a guy that hates school. … He's a great student, he's smart. He knows the NFL is gonna be there one way, it's gonna be there either this year or next year.
"So he's just got to make a decision on what he's gonna do."