ARLINGTON, Texas – Big 12 co-champion Baylor was the first team left out of the College Football Playoff. Michigan State's only two losses were to teams that made the first four-team postseason field.
Instead of the playoff, the No.5 Bears (11-1, No. 4 Associated Press) are in the lead-in game to the national semifinals later on New Year's Day. They play in their first Cotton Bowl in 34 years against the No. 8 Spartans (10-2, No. 7 AP).
"The game has huge significant value. I think from the national standpoint, the College Football Playoff deal could play into it. But that really hasn't been in our minds," Baylor coach Art Briles said Wednesday. "The thing we're looking at is just that we have an opportunity to play a really fine football team in a really great venue. This, to us, is motivation enough, particularly with how we got to this point last year at the Fiesta Bowl and didn't finish the job."
While Michigan State was the Big Ten champion and won the Rose Bowl last season, the Bears parlayed their first Big 12 title into their only Bowl Championship Series appearance and lost the Fiesta Bowl to UCF.
This Cotton Bowl, played in the same stadium where the national championship will be decided 11 days later, provides both teams a chance to set a positive tone going into next year.
"You always want to win your bowl game, your last football game. You want to finish," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "To me, that's as important as anything in your football season. It sets you up for the next year. It puts a stamp on things for your seniors."
Michigan State, only the second Big Ten team in the Cotton Bowl, lost at Oregon in the second week of the season. Its only Big Ten loss was against Ohio State, which went on to win the league championship game 59-0 and take the final playoff spot — ahead of Big 12 teams Baylor and TCU.
"That's motivation enough," said quarterback Bryce Petty, 21-3 as Baylor's starter. "This game is not about revenge on the [playoff] committee. It's not about anything else other than representing Baylor. … This isn't a Baylor team from 10 years ago."
Here are a few other things to know about the Cotton Bowl:
For the past 11 seasons, Pat Narduzzi has been the defensive coordinator for Dantonio — three seasons at Cincinnati before the last eight at Michigan State. This will be their last game together, a week after Narduzzi was named Pittsburgh's head coach.
"For him not to be here, there would have been a little bit of a hole in the program," Dantonio said. Narduzzi also will be at his new team's bowl game. Pitt plays Houston on Friday in the Armed Forces Bowl, only about 20 miles from the Cotton Bowl.
Back for more
All-America left tackle Spencer Drango and All-Big 12 defensive end Shawn Oakman both said this week they plan to return for their senior seasons at Baylor. Michigan State junior quarterback Connor Cook had already indicated he was planning to be back for his final season. Two other Spartans who are potential early entrants to the NFL draft, defensive end Shilique Calhoun and defensive back Trae Waynes, haven't announced their plans.
The weather inside
The New Year's Day forecast in the Arlington area calls for freezing rain and temperatures in the mid-30s. Not inside the Dallas Cowboys' NFL stadium.
"Like I told our players, I checked it two weeks ago and it was 72 degrees, no wind," Briles said. "So it's going to be that way every time you step out there, and that's the good thing about it."
Michigan State is looking to win its fourth consecutive bowl game. The Spartans' three-game bowl winning streak is the longest active streak in the Big Ten. That is also a school record, as is their eight consecutive bowl appearances. The Spartans, who beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl last January, are 10-14 in bowl games. Baylor is 10-10.