Michigan State? Not among them.
The coaches poll threw 10 points the Spartans’ way to start a domino effect that helped keep Michigan State (11-1) out of the Rose Bowl.
Instead, it’ll face Alabama on New Years Day on the opposite coast in the Capital One Bowl played in Orlando.
It was the unexpected nature of the seventh-ranked Spartans rise into the national picture that hurt the most, coach Mark Dantonio said. Having further to climb in the BCS standings helped send Wisconsin to Pasadena instead of Michigan State despite the fact that the Badgers lost 34-24 in East Lansing back in early October. Only a stunning blowout loss at Iowa kept the Spartans from making their case to play for the national title.
Wisconsin secured the bid to the Rose Bowl as co-conference champions since it was ranked higher in the final BCS standings per Big Ten tiebreaker rules.
“Wel,l I think we’re a BCS caliber football team,” Dantonio said Sunday.
“But the way it all shakes out in terms of the polls, maybe it’s because we weren’t a top-25 team coming into the season, but we’ve come a long way. We’ve got a story book type season.”
Realistically, it was downright dramatic.
At one point, it was almost tragic.
Following its fake field goal touchdown that beat Notre Dame in overtime on Sept. 18, Dantonio suffered a heart attack. He was hospitalized again before the Wisconsin win with a blood clot before returning to coach in a limited capacity a week later at Michigan.
By Sunday, he was quick to point out his recovery is complete enough that it isn’t the first thing on his mind.
“Well, my focus is on Alabama if that gives you any indication,” Dantonio said. “My health is very, very good. … I would say right now that I exercise daily and I’ve been very, very active and feel very, very good. I’m back on the road recruiting, so my health is very good.”
A few close games late in the regular season tested his well-being.
Michigan State needed to come back to win at Northwestern on Oct. 23 and needed to out-score Purdue 22-3 in the fourth quarter to escape with a four-point win on Nov. 20.
The Spartans made their move with balance but not much star power. They rank no higher than 39th nationally in the major offensive statistical categories.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins ranks 19th nationally in passing efficiency (153.51) behind Alabama’s Greg McElroy who is sixth (166.94).
On defense, the Spartans are 21st stopping the run but no better than 26th in the other major statistical categories.
They simply found a way to win every weekend except for the ill-fated trip to Iowa on Oct. 30 when the Hawkeyes delivered a 37-6 beating.
“We didn’t play well at Iowa and that cost us inevitably,” Dantonio said. “But you can’t worry about the past. You have to look forward to the future. We try to look forward to the future with optimism at all times.”