This one will be a hard-hitting old school affair as two of the nation’s top defenses square off.

ROSE BOWL GAME PRESENTED BY VIZIO: No. 5 Stanford (11-2) vs. No. 4 Michigan State (12-1)

[Wednesday, Jan. 1 at 5:00 PM ET on ESPN]

How They Got Here

Led by the strength of its top-ranked defense, Michigan State moved on from an early-season loss at Notre Dame to win its next nine games--including an upset of then-No. 2 Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game--and secure the Spartans' first conference title and Rose Bowl bid since 1987. Stanford, meanwhile, is appearing in the game for the second consecutive year after knocking off No. 14 Arizona State in the Pac-12 title game.

When Stanford Has the Ball

The Cardinal is a run-first team whose offense is centered on dominating the line of scrimmage behind an offensive line that averages 305 pounds per man and features All-American guard David Yankey. The Cardinal ranks 22nd nationally in rushing and senior running back Tyler Gaffney has rushed for 1,626 yards, good for third best in the Pac-12. Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan was last in the Pac-12 in pass attempts and averages just 191 passing yards per game. But he has made the most of those attempts, throwing 20 touchdowns this year and ranking in the top 20 nationally in pass efficiency. However, this will be Stanford's toughest test of the year as Michigan State leads the country in total defense and ranks in the top five of virtually every other defensive category. Expect the Cardinal to call on Gaffney to carry the load and move the chains. When Hogan does throw, look for him to try to avoid the Spartans All-American cornerback Darqueze Dennard.

When Michigan State Has the Ball

The Spartans offense has been, at best, mediocre this season, ranking 83rd nationally in total offense. However, the Spartans defense has been so excellent that it was able to overcome some of the offense’s shortcomings. That said, the Spartans have shown improvement down the stretch, averaging 31.7 points per game in their last six after only putting up more than 26 twice in their first seven games. Spartans quarterback Connor Cook had a career day against Ohio State, throwing for 304 yards and three touchdowns. But, like Stanford, expect Michigan State to try to pound the ball with running back Jeremy Langford (1,338 yards and 17 touchdowns this season). While Stanford may not boast the lofty defensive statistics of its opponent, look for All-American linebacker Trent Murphy to be a disruptive force at the point of attack.

What to Know

This is Michigan State’s first-ever BCS bowl game and its first trip to Pasadena since 1987. This is the Spartans' highest ranking since 1967. Stanford secured its first Rose Bowl win since 1972 with a victory over Wisconsin in this game last year. While both teams are well-disciplined and focused, it will be impossible for them to avoid rumors swirling around their coaches. Michigan State’s head coach Mark Dantonio and defensive coordintor Pat Narduzzi have both been rumored to be in the running for bigger jobs. Stanford’s David Shaw has been connected with several NFL openings and Cardinal quarterbacks and receivers coach Mike Sanford is leaving to become the offensive coordinator at Boise State.

What to Watch For

With two dominant defenses and powerful running games, look for this one to be a low-scoring, smashmouth affair. Michigan State ranks seventh nationally in turnover margin, which could be a huge factor in this contest. However, one potential game-changer could be the absence of Spartans middle linebacker and team captain Max Bullough, who has been suspended for a violation of team rules. Michigan State officials say they expect 40-50,000 Spartans fans to be at the game, which could turn the game into a home game atmosphere for the Big Ten champs.

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