There was a time when the styles of Michigan State and Stanford were the norm for the collegiate world. As two teams that like to run the ball and play good defense, today's Spartans and Cardinal epitomize a time that has seemed to pass for most college teams.
For the second year in a row, the Rose Bowl, in all its pageantry and history, becomes the place were "old school" football reigns. In a landscape littered with pro-style attacks taking on spread teams, or two spread teams facing off, seeing the Spartans and Cardinal duke it out on the big stage will come as a relief from the fast-break football.
It is not the same end to an era that we saw with Nebraska and the option from the Power I, or Oklahoma saying farewell to the Wishbone. This type of football is far from out of mode on the collegiate landscape. Defenses are not catching up to the style, as they are with other systems.
Rather, this game stands as a testament to coaches finding a way to make it work.
In an era when the best athletes are routinely shuttled over to offense to help a coach get more electrifying playmakers on the field, both Stanford and Michigan State have a plethora of athletes on defense. Players like Ed Reynolds and Darqueze Dennard, who could likely be at home on offenses featuring exciting spread looks, are doing big things on the other side of the ball.
This game is also more than merely about having players on defense. It's about two teams that refuse to make excuses. As offenses explode all over the nation and plenty of head coaches and defensive coordinators chalk it up to new systems, the Cardinal and Spartans keep playing great defense.
As teams like Oregon and Arizona State line up looking to explode for big points in the Pac-12, it is Stanford that offers no excuses. They don't talk "bend but don't break." Instead the Cardinal go out and try and break the opposition.
The same goes for Michigan State, in a Big Ten that is transitioning to the spread in various forms. Mark Dantonio's team, coming off a 7-6 campaign in 2012, doubled down on its approach. Andrew Maxwell gave way to Connor Cook, and now the Spartans are sitting at 12-1, looking to win a Rose Bowl.
While players such as Telvin Smith at Florida State and C.J. Mosley at Alabama speak to the new breed of linebacker. Max Bullough at Michigan State and Shayne Skov at Stanford stand as throwback, classic interior linebackers still getting it done.
What was once standard, two-back sets, tight ends who block and teams that play defense is now rare in the game. With teams moving toward big offense, big numbers and scoring at will, Michigan State and Stanford offer a respite from the scoreboard-abusing numbers.
Enjoy the Rose Bowl, the rare meeting of two teams that are largely conventional by nature.
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