Bowl fate for MSU steeped in performance against Penn State
East Lansing — A week ago, Michigan State had a chance to reach the Big Ten Championship Game, a likely spot in the College Football Playoffs on the line from there.
Things did not go well in Columbus as the Spartans were dominated by Ohio State, allowing touchdowns on the first seven Buckeyes possessions. Almost as soon as the game started it was over, so too were the Spartans’ championship hopes.
That hardly means everything is lost. While it might not be the playoff, Michigan State (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten) still has the chance to play itself into a New Year’s Six bowl game, not a bad consolation prize for a program on the rise like Mel Tucker's.
Where the Spartans spend the holidays will depend on what happens Saturday in the regular-season finale. MSU plays host to Penn State at 3:30 p.m. at Spartan Stadium. Let's look at some of the more likely landing spots for Michigan State, and who the Spartans might play.
Rose Bowl, Jan. 1, Pasadena, California
It’s not what Michigan State fans want to hear as visions of 2013 were likely dancing through their minds before last week’s loss. But not only did the performance in Columbus knock the Spartans out of the playoff picture, it almost surely means they won’t play in the Rose Bowl.
We’ll assume Ohio State beats Michigan on Saturday and the Buckeyes go on to beat the West champion — let’s say Wisconsin — in the conference title game. With Ohio State off to the playoffs, the Rose Bowl then can take another Big Ten team. Based on the rankings we’ve seen so far from the playoff committee a 10-2 Michigan team will be ahead of a 10-2 Michigan State team. The Wolverines would likely be headed to Pasadena. If Michigan wins Saturday, then Ohio State is in the picture for the Rose Bowl, and the Buckeyes would clearly go over the Spartans. If Wisconsin wins the West, there’s a chance the Badgers end up in the top 12 of the rankings, too, and could take a Rose Bowl spot, but that seems unlikely.
Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 1, Tempe, Arizona
There are two New Year’s Six bowls that seem like the most likely spot for Michigan State if the Spartans win on Saturday. This game is one of those. Headed into the final week of the season, most projections have the Spartans playing in the Fiesta Bowl, though the opponents change based on what projection you look at.
Assuming Michigan State remains in the top 12, it could face anyone from Notre Dame to Oklahoma State in a bowl it has never played in. The closest the Spartans have come to the Fiesta Bowl was a spot in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in 2012, which ran as a warmup to the Fiesta Bowl. As for matchups, a meeting with the Fighting Irish could be intriguing considering the history of the programs.
Peach Bowl, Dec. 30, Atlanta
This is the other New Year’s Six game that some are projecting for Michigan State. The Spartans are only getting to one of these games if they beat Penn State on Saturday, something that is far from a guarantee, but we will make that assumption.
It’s another bowl the Spartans have never played in and there are several possible opponents, including Notre Dame. Another potential matchup seems even more intriguing — Wake Forest. The teams met in the 2019 Pinstripe Bowl but the chance for running back Kenneth Walker III to face his former team would add a compelling storyline to the game.
Citrus Bowl, Jan. 1, Orlando, Florida
There’s a chance Michigan State ends up here even if it does win on Saturday, but odds are the Spartans will end up here only if they lose to Penn State and close the season at 9-3. The Spartans have played in Orlando plenty of times, the last two when it was called the Capital One Bowl. The last appearance was a rough one as they got worked over by Alabama in 2011.
If Michigan State is in Orlando this time, it likely got the nod over the likes of Wisconsin and Iowa from the West and would be playing an SEC team, perhaps a team like Kentucky, Texas A&M or even Mississippi State.
Outback Bowl, Jan. 1. Tampa, Florida
A spot in the Outback Bowl would mean even more tumbling down the rankings, likely including a decisive loss to Penn State. It’s not exactly out of the question to see the Spartans back in the bowl for the first time since the 2012 game when Michigan State beat Georgia in overtime. Wisconsin or Iowa could slide ahead into the Citrus Bowl, leaving Michigan State to head to Tampa.
A trip to the Outback Bowl, like the Citrus Bowl, would mean a matchup with an SEC team with teams like Kentucky, Texas A&M and Mississippi State being in the same pool.
Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 30, Las Vegas
Music City Bowl, Dec. 30, Nashville, Tennessee
Both of these bowl games seem unlikely. But if the Spartans lose to Penn State in a similar fashion as they did to Ohio State, there’s a chance both Wisconsin and Iowa jump ahead and take the slots in the two Florida bowls while the Nittany Lions could leapfrog Michigan State, as well.
The Spartans have never played in either bowl and would face an SEC team in the Music City Bowl — think Tennessee, Arkansas, etc. — while a spot in Las Vegas would be against a Pac-12 opponent along the lines of Arizona State or UCLA.