The Spartans ended the regular season Saturday in New Jersey with a blowout win in an utterly forgettable game against Rutgers. With the win, MSU finishes the regular season 9-3 and will not only return to a bowl game, but likely a high profile game.
Since they aren’t competing for a spot in the playoffs, Michigan State’s bowl destination is still wide open. This is made even more dramatic by the craziness going on at the top of the CFP rankings. With no one safe, the Spartans need to have travel plans in place for a handful of different bowls.
vs. SEC – Orlando, Florida – January 1
Probably the premier option for MSU, a Citrus Bowl selection would put the Spartans as the top Big Ten team outside of the New Years Six. A New Year’s Day game, the Spartans would play in front of a big audience both in person and on television.
Michigan State would likely play an SEC like South Carolina or Mississippi State. Both very beatable opponents for this year’s MSU squad.
The Spartans have played in the Citrus Bowl (briefly known as the Capital One Bowl) three times, two of which came under Mark Dantonio’s leadership. Dantonio lost both of those games, against Alabama in embarrassing fashion in January 2011 and against Georgia two years earlier. The lone win for MSU in the Citrus Bowl came in 2000 against Florida. That game was coached by Bobby Williams after Nick Saban took off.
vs. SEC – Tampa, Florida – January 1
This seems to be the favorite for where the Spartans will land. One of, if not the, highest profile game outside of the New Years Six bowl games, the Outback Bowl would be a huge win for MSU, considering where the program was 365 days ago. It would mean, however, that either Northwestern or Michigan were selected for the Citrus Bowl ahead of MSU.
If this is where Michigan State ends up, are most likely to play LSU, but could end up playing a lower profile SEC team. The Spartans only have one other appearance in the Outback Bowl, but it was a memorable one. January 2, 2012 Mark Dantonio won his first bowl game with MSU, beating Georgia 33-30 in a triple-overtime thriller.
vs. At Large – Arlington, Texas – December 29
Much more of a stretch option for the Spartans, but with all the craziness going on in the CFP projections, stranger things have happened. For Michigan State to return to Dallas, they would need Wisconsin to earn a spot in the playoffs, along with a few more breaks including a UCF loss to Memphis, TCU getting blown out by Oklahoma and Miami losing big to Clemson. Even then, the Spartans would have to be selected over a Penn State team with a better overall record.
The New Years Six bowl game would feel comfortable to this Michigan State program, which has made multiple trips to Arlington over the last few years. The Spartans made back to back trips to the Cotton Bowl in their last two bowl appearances. First, beating Baylor in epic comeback fashion, and second again getting blown out by Alabama. The second appearance was MSU’s lone appearance in the College Football Playoffs.
If MSU somehow made it to the Cotton Bowl, they would almost certainly be underdogs to one of the higher ranked teams in the country. But that’s not to say the Spartans should lose that matchup. Especially if the game comes against a team the caliber of this year’s USC squad.
Other bowl options:
Because of the unofficial nature of the bowl selection process, there is a chance that MSU could fall out of one of the New Year’s Day games. If the Citrus and Outback Bowl select both Northwestern and Michigan ahead of the Spartans, they could fall to the Music City Bowl or Holiday Bowl. Both games would be a let down for the Spartans and an undeserving finish to what has been a strong season.