EAST LANSING – If Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio was upset about his team’s bowl assignment, he didn’t show it.
The Spartans (9-3, 7-2 Big Ten) were selected on Sunday to play Washington State (9-3, 6-3 Pac-12) in the Dec. 28 Holiday Bowl in San Diego. That came after Michigan was picked by the Outback Bowl as the Big Ten’s representative to face South Carolina on Jan. 1 in Tampa, Fla.
“Life’s about how you handle disappointments,” Dantonio said. “I would not say going to the Holiday Bowl is a big disappointment. I’m excited about it, very excited about the opportunity.”
Michigan State was widely projected for either the Outback Bowl or Citrus Bowl, which is Jan. 1 in Orlando, Fla. However, previously-unbeaten Wisconsin lost 27-21 to Ohio State in the Big Ten championship on Saturday, dropped to No. 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings and will face Miami in the Orange Bowl. That meant a Big Ten team couldn’t play in the Citrus Bowl, the Outback Bowl had the next choice and went with the Wolverines.
“All I can do as a football coach every single week is get ready for the people that we’re playing against and look for a quality opponent to play against,” Dantonio said. “I think that’s what we have.
“We knew that it would be one of three bowls, it depends how everything sort of shakes out and I thought all three bowl games gave us a great opportunity to showcase our talents and to play a great football team. That’s where we’re going and we’re going to get excited.”
Michigan State was No. 16 in the final College Football Playoff rankings, No. 18 in the AP rankings and No. 19 in the Coaches Poll while Michigan was unranked in all three. The Spartans have a better record and resume than the Wolverines (8-4, 5-4) and beat them 14-10 in Ann Arbor on Oct. 7.
“I just look at it as an opportunity to play in the Holiday Bowl right now,” Dantonio said. “The records are what they are. I’ll just continue to concentrate on beating Michigan, let things sort of sort out.”
Michigan State is now in a bowl game for the 10th time in Dantonio’s 11 seasons leading the program. That comes after a resurgence from 3-9 last season to flip its record.
“We’re used to being there,” Dantonio said of bowl games. “We have a football team that was in the playoffs two years ago, so that’s a positive I think for everybody and everybody can draw on that and understand the culture that’s here and the substance and how we’ve played over a period of time. Obviously, we didn’t play in a bowl game last year and we sort of got ourselves squared away and pushed back up to the top a little bit.”
The Spartans will return to practice this weekend and will likely depart for San Diego on Dec. 22. Although the Holiday Bowl is not a New Year’s Day game, it’s still a top-20 matchup against Washington State, which was No. 18 in the latest CFP rankings. Dantonio stressed the importance of a bowl game experience for the 60 or so players on the team that haven’t been part of one, but the outcome is also critical.
“There is definitely a difference between going to a bowl game and winning it and going there and not winning,” Dantonio said. “So, we’re going to focus on what we can and make sure that we come out of there with a 10th win, which not too many people in the country have an opportunity to win 10 games.”