Dallas — Once a team has established an identity, it's hard to change that identity, regardless of what is playing out on the field.
Michigan State in 2014 is the epitome of that. Any mention of Thursday's Cotton Bowl matchup between No. 5 Baylor and the No. 8 Spartans usually follows the same theme — it's a battle of the high-scoring Baylor offense against the stingy Michigan State defense.
None of that is false, considering the Bears score more points (48.8) per game than any team in the nation and the Spartans have the sixth-ranked defense. It's the fourth straight season Michigan State has been in the top 10.
But what is often overlooked is Michigan State happens to have the most prolific offense in school history, one that set records in points (517), total offense (5,958 yards), offensive touchdowns (54) and rushing touchdowns (40).
And the Spartans happen to rank seventh in the country by scoring 43.1 points a game.
So does the Michigan State offense feel overlooked this week?
"Yeah, I think we get overlooked a lot," said senior Tony Lippett, voted the Big Ten receiver of the year. "But we just view that as motivation. We want to go out there and show the world we can score points and we can play with anybody."
The Spartans have been in their share of shootouts this season and could be in another one Thursday. It's not exactly the spot they would ideally like to be in considering that would mean they're struggling on defense, but it's one they don't shy away from.
"I will enjoy a shootout as long as we have more points at the end of the game," co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. "If that's what ends up happening things are working well for us. That's always fun because it's easy to pick a play and see if it works."
One of the big reason so many plays have worked this season is the play of junior quarterback Connor Cook. The second-team All-Big Ten recipient has thrown for 2,900 yards and 22 touchdowns while leading the conference by throwing for 241.7 yards a game and ranking second with a passing efficiency of 152.4.
He understands that Michigan State is still known as a defense-first type of team but believes this is the type of game where the offense can turn some heads.
"With the points we've scored and the yards we've averaged each game, we are a very balanced offense and people look at us as a good offense now," Cook said. "We're a team with a deadly offense. Against Baylor we're gonna have to score points and possibly get in a shootout. We're gonna have to score possibly 40-plus points to win the game, that is what we've been saying. We know Baylor is gonna be out there running and gunning, slinging it all over the place."
No word yet
While Baylor got some good news this week with a pair of juniors announcing they would return for their senior seasons, Michigan State is still waiting.
Left tackle Spencer Drango and defensive end Shawn Oakman both said this week they will play their final seasons at Baylor instead of the entering the NFL draft while Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes and defensive end Shilique Calhoun have not said publicly what their plans are.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio joked Wednesday that Waynes and Calhoun are like prized high-school prospects that draw plenty of attention. But Dantonio also stressed supporting his players in their decisions.
"Obviously, I think they're probably our top recruits right now," Dantonio said. "But I think Trae and Shilique are extremely happy here. To me, that's all that's important. After that, they make their decision that's best for them and their families.
"But the only thing that I want to be able to do as a football coach, as their football coach, is be able to help them in any way I can. They're both outstanding players. They'll make some decisions, and then we'll move from there."
Dantonio said both have received feedback from the NFL on their potential draft position. Waynes is a first-round pick in most mock drafts while Calhoun is seen as more of a fringe first-rounder who could go some time in the second round.
"All I can say is I know that their heart is here at Michigan State," Dantonio said. "Doesn't mean they're going to stay here, but their heart will always be here and they're Spartans.
Even when Dantonio was at home watching Christmas movies, he couldn't get his mind off the bowl, specifically how to slow Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty.
"I was watching 'Elf' with my kids," Dantonio said. "And when Elf throws snowballs at those guys, that's what I thought of. I said, 'There's Bryce Petty.' That thing is coming out fast and hot."
Dantonio was referencing the 2003 movie starring Will Ferrell. In one scene, Ferrell's character "Buddy" gets in a snowball fight and fires the snowballs at warp speed.
But the quick release is just one thing Dantonio admires about Baylor's senior quarterback.
"I think he's a gamer," Dantonio said. "You can tell he's got great leadership skills. You can tell that by watching a press conference, by seeing how he operates. When you watch a TV game and we've watched the tape — you can watch him and see that he is a leader, that he's got his players' backs and they have his."