East Lansing – For the second straight season, Michigan State is headed west.
The Spartans accepted an invitation to play in the Redbox Bowl on Dec. 31 in Santa Clara, Calif., against Oregon of the Pac-12. The game kicks off at 3 p.m. and will be televised on Fox.
It might not have been the bowl game Michigan State was hoping for before the season began, but the Spartans feel like they landed in a good location against a program with a national brand.
“Very excited about the opportunity to go to San Francisco, a place our players have not been and play against an outstanding Oregon team," coach Mark Dantonio said. "We've got a little bit of a history with Oregon having played them in '14 and '15. So, looking forward to the matchup and looking forward to the bowl experience and our players will be ready to go and we’ll start working on (Oregon) immediately.”
While the teams have never met in a bowl game, Michigan State and Oregon have split six games, with the most recent matchups coming in 2014 and 2015. In 2014, the Spartans traveled to Oregon and led in the third quarter before Marcus Mariota directed the Ducks’ comeback as Oregon went on to win the Pac-12 and reach the College Football Playoff, losing to Ohio State in the national title game.
The next season, Oregon visited East Lansing and the Spartans came away with a 31-28 victory, one that catapulted them to a Big Ten championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff.
The matchup at Levi's Stadium on New Year’s Eve isn’t on the same stage but provides a chance for Michigan State (7-5) to end the season on a high note after failing to meet expectations in 2018, primarily because of injuries and shortcomings on offense.
“You want to have a feel-good at the end of every season,” Dantonio said. “You want to feel good about where you left it as you finish your season. We need to get ourselves ready to play and play our best football. And that, as much as anything, I want to leave a season playing our best football.
“I don’t think there is any question toward the end of the season we didn’t play as good as we had maybe at other points during the season, whether that was injuries or whatever. So, as you work through your season and come out the back end of it, you want to be playing your best football. It’s quite simply that. That means winning your bowl game.”
Michigan State has done its share of winning bowl games in the last few years.
This is the 11th time Dantonio has led the Spartans to a bowl game in his 12 seasons – the most bowl appearances of any coach in program history – and he has compiled a 5-5 record in bowl games at Michigan State, winning five of the last six, including a victory over Washington State in last season’s Holiday Bowl.
“We’ll prepare accordingly and get ourselves ready to go,” Dantonio said. “Won’t be easy. Those are the expectations. There are no easy games out there, but I’m very excited about going out there and playing.”
This season has been a bit of a revival for Oregon (8-4) after a couple years of upheaval. The Ducks became a national power under Chip Kelly and continued that under Mark Helfrich, reaching the College Football Playoff in 2014. But Helfrich was fired after a 4-8 season in 2016 and Willie Taggart stuck around just one season before bolting to Florida State.
Mario Cristobal coached the Ducks in last season’s Las Vegas Bowl and led Oregon to eight regular-season victories, including a win over then-No. 7 Washington.
Junior quarterback Justin Herbert was voted as Oregon’s MVP after throwing for 2,985 yards and 28 touchdowns this season.
The Ducks averaged 445.9 yards and 37.2 points a game this season but know they’ll have to be at their best against a Michigan State defense that is No. 1 in the nation against the run (81.3 yards) and 14th in scoring (14 points).
“They are what we all know of Michigan State and their history; just a very physical and big football team with some good explosive players,” Cristobal said. “What I saw on film is just that. Guys that control the line of scrimmage, knock you back. They do a real good job of disguising their pressures. They are consistent in what they do.
“They’re a very well-coached football team. Coach Dantonio does a real good job with them.”
Michigan State is making its 28th all-time bowl appearance and has compiled a 12-15 record. The Spartans set a school record with nine consecutive bowl appearances from 2007-15, including a school-record four-game winning streak in the 2011 Outback Bowl over No. 18 Georgia, the 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl over TCU, the 2014 Rose Bowl over No. 5 Stanford and the 2015 Cotton Bowl over No. 4 Baylor.
"We're excited about the opportunity to go out west and play in front of our West Coast Spartans and we have large contingent in the San Francisco area," Dantonio said. "So, it will be exciting for our guys. A lot of our players have never been out there. From my experience, San Francisco is an amazing town with a lot to offer and lot of things to see for our football team."
Michigan State vs. Oregon
Kickoff: 3 p.m., Monday, Dec. 31, Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.
TV/radio: Fox/760 AM
Records: Michigan State 7-5, 5-4 Big Ten; Oregon 8-4, 5-4 Pac-12
Tickets: Visit msuspartans.com or call (517) 355-1610.