Stanford vs. Michigan State: It'll be run (and defend) for the Roses

The 100th Rose Bowl is an old-school matchup of teams that favor ground-based offense and stifling defense. A lot like last year's game.

Don't be shocked if the 100th Rose Bowl plays out like the 99th Rose Bowl.

So raise a toast and say: Happy Old Year.

Stanford earned a return trip to Pasadena after winning another Pac-12 Conference title with plow-horse offense, dig-in defense and an NFL football philosophy that draws from the raw-meat era of Ground Chuck (Knox).

"We run the ball," Stanford Coach David Shaw said this week. "That's who we are. That's what we do. We will throw the ball as well, but we want to be a 60-40 run team."

Anything else that won't remind us of video games, John Hadl to Lance Alworth, Mike Leach's "Air Raid" attack or flying saucers?

Shaw: "We play field position, run the ball, control the clock, get first downs, get in the red zone and try and score more touchdowns than field goals."

Last year, Farm-fed Stanford used that template to earn a slow-bleed, 20-14 win over tractor-trailer Wisconsin.

The difference is Michigan State, the Big Ten representative this time, is a first-class (with a hot towel) upgrade over Wisconsin. The Badgers, remember, were a five-loss team that got invited only because Ohio State was on probation, the sort of hand-me-down replacement we used to get with the Rose Bowl's archaic no-repeater rule.

Michigan State is only five points from being undefeated. In fact, if next season's playoff started this season using the BCS standings, Michigan State would have edged Stanford out for the fourth playoff spot and played top-seeded Florida State in a national semifinal.

The Spartans ran roughshod through the Big Ten to clinch their first Rose Bowl berth since the 1987 season, when Percy Snow led a win over USC.

"We didn't come in the back door here," Michigan State Coach Mark Dantonio said proudly. "We walked in the front; we won the Big Ten."

This is a classic Rose Bowl matchup, the way it was intended when the conferences signed a compact in 1947. It won't happen next year unless the Pac-12 and Big Ten happen to be seeded against each other as top-four finalists.

This 100th-game celebration is also extra special in that Stanford and Michigan State are meeting in the Rose Bowl for the first time. The football programs haven't played each other since the 1996 Sun Bowl, when Tyron Willingham coached Stanford to a 38-0 shutout against a Spartans team coached by Nick Saban.

The final score of this year's Rose Bowl may not add up to 38. Stanford's stingy defense gives up about 18 points per game; Michigan State's gives up about 12.

Wednesday at the Arroyo Seco has the makings of a Great American Standoff. A similar event held in Scotland might be called The 100th Caber Toss presented by Vizio.

Stanford has every intention of sending tailback Tyler Gaffney, as many times as it takes, into Michigan State's No. 1-ranked defense. Gaffney carried the ball 45 times in a win over Oregon and didn't even file a complaint to the Labor Department.

Stanford's passing attack will be used sparingly, a surprise-attack counter to Michigan State's possibly lining up 11 defensive players on the line of scrimmage.

There were a lot of manly and macho football phrases being tossed around this week. Stanford's Shaw said, "I think it's going to be old-school football," and "you don't make kids tough, you recruit tough kids."

Mike Bloomgren, given the very Stanford-like title of Director of Offense, had an interesting term for explaining the Cardinal's approach to major college football. "I want it to be intellectual brutality," he said.

Bloomgren appeared at a news conference wearing a new pair of Google Glass optics, thinking that would be the perfect way to explain Stanford's seemingly Nerd-Neanderthal contradictions.