Michigan State: Spartans Prove They Are an Elite Team with Rose Bowl Victory

Ryan Bothmann@tripleCfanSenior Analyst IIJanuary 1, 2014

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Offensive tackle Fou Fonoti #51 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrates after the Spartans defeat the Stanford Cardinal 24-20 in the 100th Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio at the Rose Bowl on January 1, 2014 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

There have been so many questions this season about how good the Big Ten Conference really is. Those questions mainly surrounded the Ohio State Buckeyes because there weren't really any other strong teams in the conference this season.

At least that is what we all thought. Michigan State showed us why we were wrong with its Rose Bowl victory on Wednesday evening.

The Spartans flew under the radar all year. Everyone seemed willing to acknowledge that the Spartans were a solid football team that was worthy of a Top 25 spot, but their name was nowhere to be found when the talk of elite college teams came up.

The reason they were not considered elite had to do in large part with an early-season loss to Notre Dame. The Spartans came up short on the road in a tough game against their rivals and it made people seriously doubt how good the team really was.

Just look at the first BCS standings of the season. The Spartans were not even in the Top 25.

Sparty managed to creep into the Top 25 the next week, though, and as the team's wins began to pile up on the year, it slowly climbed higher.

Eventually, the Spartans climbed all the way to the No. 10 spot in the BCS before their Big Ten Championship Game showdown with the Buckeyes. The Spartans were certainly given a chance in the game and many people thought they would pull the upset off because of their talented defense. 

The win in the title game over Ohio State propelled the Spartans to the No. 4 ranking in the BCS standings and sent them into the Rose Bowl for a battle with No. 5 Stanford.

Coming into the game, however, the Spartans still did not seem to be getting a whole lot of respect. Vegas Insider indicates that the game was being picked about 50/50 between college experts and fans, but the Spartans were underdogs by a touchdown to a Stanford team that was considered to have a far superior offense to that of the Spartans.

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  (R and 2nd R) Quarterback Connor Cook #18 and Linebacker Kyler Elsworth #41 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrate after receiving the offensive and defensive Rose Bowl Player of the Game Awards, respectively, following Michi
Jonathan Moore/Getty Images

Sophomore quarterback Connor Cook stole the show in Pasadena and helped propel the Spartans to a 24-20 win over the Cardinal. The young quarterback completed 22 of his 36 attempts for 332 yards and two touchdowns.

One of the more impressive things he did in the game, though, was respond so well to a pick-six that he threw in the first half. Cook could have gotten flustered and the Spartan offense could have been derailed by the error, but he stayed poised and continued to lead his team as though the mistake had never happened.

The Spartan defense was outstanding in the game as well.

After an opening-drive touchdown by Stanford, which made people quickly question whether or not Michigan State could hang with the Cardinal, the Spartan defense responded and did not allow another touchdown from the Cardinal offense for the rest of the game.

The win was in no way a dominating performance by Michigan State, but it was a great performance against the defending Rose Bowl champions. The Spartans showed their toughness on defense, but also proved that they could put up the numbers offensively.

It truly was an elite performance. Is Michigan State an elite team, though?

There is no doubt that the Big Ten Conference is very weak. The level of competition week in and week out does not even compare to the talent levels that teams in the SEC and Pac-12 face each week. However, this should not take anything away from the Spartans.

They went on a neutral field and proved against one of the top teams in the sport that, not only could they compete, they could compete and win.

They certainly proved that they were an elite team this season and deserve to be a Top 10 or possibly even a Top Five team going into next season.

When next season comes around, the Spartans will certainly get their chance to prove once again that they are an elite team. Michigan State makes a trip to Autzen Stadium for its second game of the season to face off against the Oregon Ducks.

If the Spartans win that game and can go undefeated in the Big Ten once again, it would certainly be enough to propel them to a national championship.