The 2014 Rose Bowl between Big Ten champ Michigan State and Pac-12 champ Stanford will be one of the most (if not the most) thrilling games of the bowl season.
It won't be high-scoring. Both teams boast top-10 defenses in points allowed. The showdown will almost definitely go down to the wire, though.
Here are the keys to victory for the Spartans and Cardinal.
Let Cook Throw
Connor Cook is only a sophomore. Michigan State has a stud, workhorse running back. It isn't baffling why the Spartans haven't aired it out this season, but they need to put the ball in Cook's hands to defeat Stanford.
Cook has only attempted more than 25 passes in a game six times this season. Such a low total against the Cardinal would be unacceptable. He attempted 40 against Ohio State, completing 24 of them for 304 yards and three touchdowns.
Against a team that may have been headed to the BCS Championship Game, Cook proved that he's capable of carrying an offense. In games in which he threw at least two measly touchdown passes, Michigan State outscored its opponents 229-92. The Spartans are nearly unbeatable when Cook is cooking secondaries.
Double Ty Montgomery
Michigan State should man-up Montgomery with a cornerback and have a safety over the top of him the entire game. He has the potential to single-handedly give Stanford the edge.
Both teams have elite defenses. Both teams have top-notch halfbacks. Both teams have solid quarterbacks.
But only the Cardinal have a go-to receiver. Montgomery is the only wideout in the contest with at least 600 receiving yards. He racked up 937 on the season, three games with 130 receiving yards or more and three multi-touchdown performances—including a four-touchdown outing.
If the Spartans are able to contain Montgomery, it will send Stanford's offense back down to Earth.
Protect the Football
Michigan State didn't need turnovers to beat Ohio State, but—with their No. 4 ranked defense—providing the Spartans with extra opportunities is suicide.
Hogan has nine interceptions this season. He's thrown more than one interception in a game twice. In those games, the Cardinal lost to USC and only defeated Notre Dame by seven points. Hogan has had numerous explosive performances this season, but his ability to connect with receivers wearing red and not green will sway the outcome of the contest.
Michigan State doesn't turn the ball over. It's seventh in the nation in turnover margin. Stanford can't turn the ball over, either, if it wants to come out on top in Pasadena, Calif.
Slow Jeremy Langford
While allowing Cook to air it out is a key for the Spartans, forcing Cook to win the game on his own is the key for the Cardinal. Langford will enter the postseason having eclipsed the century mark on the ground in eight straight games. That streak could be even longer if it didn't take Michigan State until mid-October to start feeding him the football at least 20 times a game.
On the season, Langford has amassed 1,338 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns on 5.0 yards a pop. While Cook earned the most praise for the Spartans' upset triumph against the Buckeyes, Langford's 149 yards from scrimmage and touchdown were instrumental as well.
The 6'0", 206-pound junior has rushed for more than one touchdown in five games this season, including two three-touchdown performances.
If Stanford is able to slow him down and make Michigan State even somewhat one-dimensional, it should claim the Rose Bowl crown.
David Daniels is a breaking news writer at Bleacher Report and news editor at Wade-O Radio.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!