Michigan State and Wake Forest are two teams heading in opposite directions, a scenario that could make their matchup in the Pinstripe Bowl like two ships passing in the night.
The Spartans (6-6) are only four years removed from an appearance in the College Football Playoff, but since then they’ve managed to go just 26-24. This season they needed victories over Rutgers and Maryland in the final two weeks just to become bowl eligible.
The Demon Deacons, on the other hand, are slowly trying to become a player in the ACC. It’s a difficult proposition considering Wake Forest (8-4) plays in the Atlantic Division with defending national champion Clemson, but coach Dave Clawson has steadily been positioning his team as a factor in the conference.
Now in his sixth season, Clawson has Wake Forest in a bowl game for the fourth straight season.And a victory over the Spartans on Friday night at Yankee Stadium in New York would give the Deacons their most wins since a nine-win campaign in 2007.
Even though the Demon Deacons lost three of their last four — a stretch that knocked them out of contention for a spot in the Orange Bowl — things are still turning in the right direction.
“It’s very positive,” Clawson told reporters recently of his team’s trajectory. “This is the sphere we hope to be in consistently, and hopefully, occasionally we’re in contention for the Orange Bowl as we were in November.
“Without going to the Orange Bowl, this is as good as it gets. We had a great experience at the Belk Bowl in Charlotte and certainly the Pinstripe Bowl we view as one of the prime bowls that the ACC has an affiliation with.”
Wake Forest will be shooting for its fourth straight bowl victory after winning the Military Bowl, Belk Bowl and Birmingham Bowl in consecutive seasons.
The Demon Deacons have never played Michigan State, but even with losses to Syracuse, Clemson and Virginia Tech down the stretch, they’re in good position to compete against a Spartans team that is among the worst in the nation offensively. Michigan State entered Monday ranked 101st in the nation in yards per game (361.5).
“It’s a very good opponent in Michigan State, certainly a traditional power from the Big Ten,” Clawson said. “Coach (Mark) Dantonio has done an incredible job there for a long period of time. We’re excited about the opportunity to go to New York City with our football team. … It’s more than just a football game. Our players get to experience something they’ve never experienced before and also play in a historic venue like Yankee Stadium against a traditional power like Michigan State.”
The Spartans will be attempting to turn the tide and build some momentum heading into an uncertain offseason. After enduring a five-game skid before the final two, bowl-saving wins, Dantonio is likely to make some staff changes in hopes of igniting a turnaround — something Michigan State is familiar with.
After a 7-6 mark in 2012 that included a win in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, the Spartans won 36 games over three seasons with two Big Ten titles and the playoff berth. They’re hoping a similar turnaround begins at the Pinstripe Bowl.
“We were able to do that in (2012) and it paid dividends to ’13,” Dantonio told reporters. “We look forward to doing that. … I just know that 7-6 is better than 6-7 and it’s better than 6-6, and that’s where we find ourselves right now. I don’t like being there, but at the same time, we are where we’re at, and so we need to be able to do something about that.”
–Field Level Media