1. First Rose Bowl for Michigan State since 1988 - why's it taken so long for the Spartans to get back to Pasadena?
Because the MAN has been keeping us down! Nah. George Perles took MSU to that last Rose Bowl and another Big Ten championship in 1990, but his time at MSU ended with NCAA violations and a forfeited season. Enter Nick Saban in 1995, taking over a mess of a program. He got MSU to 9-2 in 1999, but they were passed over by the Orange Bowl for Michigan, and Saban left for LSU. The Bobby Williams era was as disaster, and so was the John L. Smith era. So Mark Dantonio took over a program in 2007 that had reached two bowls from 2000-06 and had all sorts of on- and off-the-field issues. He started building his program and won a Big Ten Championship in 2010 in a three-way tie. Under normal Big Ten rules, MSU would go to the Rose Bowl having the longest drought. However, that year, the Big Ten voted to change the rule to highest BCS ranking. That let Wisconsin go to Pasadena. Ohio State would get chosen over MSU for the Sugar Bowl and the Buckeyes would later vacate that season due to violations. Sigh.
In 2011, MSU had the best record in the Big Ten, but lost in the first Big Ten Championship Game to Wisconsin. In 2013, they finally took care of business themselves. They've won three Big Ten championships since the last Rose Bowl berth, but that makes this one so much sweeter.
2. That Big Ten title game win over Ohio State was extremely impressive - what was the Spartans' gameplan in that one, and will it carry over into the Stanford matchup?
MSU loves to run the ball, but the Buckeyes were selling out on the run. MSU opened things up in the passing game, and quarterback Connor Cook won the game's MVP, passing for more than 300 yards for the first time in his career. On defense, it was all about avoiding the big play. The Buckeyes didn't turn it over, but MSU was able to force Ohio State to go the length of the field. Sometimes they did. More often, they didn't.
3. Why is Michigan State's defense so good?
More than anything, it's an aggressive system that forces college players to make plays that most of them can't. Add in the fact this defense is full of third-year starters, the entire defensive playbook was already put in before the season started.
This defense likes to blitz, use the safeties in the run game and keep the cornerbacks on islands. Wisconsin was able to move the ball on this defense in 2011 because of a combination of the power running game and Russell Wilson making all the right throws. I knew then that he'd be very successful in the NFL. Stanford has that power running game. It will be interesting to see how the passing game looks.
4. What does Michigan State need to improve/fix before January 1?
The biggest weakness in this defense in the defensive tackles. Ohio State' Carlos Hyde gashed them up the middle quite a bit and averaged 6.6 yards per carry. Now, this was partly due to the fact that MSU had to account for Braxton Miller and the read option offense. Against Stanford and that offensive line, I imagine MSU will be working on some exotic blitz packages to try to get to the quarterback. Offensively, it'd be great to be able to run the ball more successfully earlier. Running back Jeremy Langford (eight straight 100-yard games) gets stronger as the game goes on and has put the past five games away with a 35-plus-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter. But if they can get that running game going earlier, it opens everything up.
5. Are you worried at all about coaching staff changes before the Rose Bowl? Will Pat Narduzzi get a head coaching job somewhere else before then?
On Wednesday, he pulled out of the UConn job search. He hasn't explicitly stated yet that he will return next season, but I do think he'll be coaching in the Rose Bowl. It's possible he looks at some other jobs, and more could come open if there's a domino effect. But it's looking very likely, at this point, that he will return next season.