Michigan State Defied Trends to Go From 6-6 to 2013 Rose Bowl

Michigan State Defied Trends to Go From 6-6 to 2013 Rose Bowl
Fact Checked by Michael Peters

Few college football teams have seen the type of one-year renaissance Michigan State witnessed in 2013.

Led by quarterback Connor Cook and running back Jeremy Langford, the Spartans went from a 6-6 regular season punctuated with a win in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in 2012 to the school’s first Rose Bowl win in 26 years in 2013.

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The 2013 Spartans boat-raced opponents, en route to a 12-1 regular season that saw them garner wins over Michigan (29-6) and Ohio State (34-24).

It also was a season to remember for Cook, who threw for 2,755 yards and 22 touchdowns (to six interceptions), to pace coach Mark Dantonio’s ground-and-pound offense.

Langford was no slouch out of the backfield, either, dashing his way to 1,422 yards and 18 scores on the ground.

With the Spartans sitting on the outside looking in this bowl season thanks to a 5-7 record — much to the disappointment of Michigan sports betting — it’s worth remembering the first of Dantonio’s elite teams in East Lansing.

Best Follow-up Seasons for 6-6 Bowl Teams

Year Team Record
2013🏈 Michigan State13-1
2017🏈 UCF13-0
2016🏈 Washington12-2
2017🏈 TCU11-3
2018🏈 Utah State11-2
2019🏈 Minnesota11-2
2015🏈 North Carolina11-3
Note: Since 2013. Doesn’t include 2020 season.

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How MSU Went From 6-6 to 13-1 in 2013

Dantonio’s seventh Michigan State squad had all the makings of being special out of the gate, despite not finding its way into the Associated Press Top 25 until Oct. 27.

The Spartans were better than their previous year’s record indicated, as five of Michigan State’s six 2012 losses were by a touchdown or less.

It seemed all Michigan State needed to get over the top in the uber-competitive Big Ten was the right mixture of toughness and tenacity to weather the conference’s notorious nine-game slate.

They found that duo in Cook and Langford, both of whom were in their first seasons as starters in 2013.

Cook actually came into the 2013 season listed as Andrew Maxwell’s backup, but finally took the reins against Youngstown State in Week 3, where he threw for 202 yards and four touchdowns to pace the Spartans’ 55-17 win over their FCS foes.

Langford, on the other hand, was the starter at running back from Week 1, racing out of the gate for 94 yards and a touchdown against Western Michigan.

Cook and Langford came up clutch in the Spartans’ wins over the Wolverines, with Cook throwing for 252 yards and a touchdown, while Langford ran for 120 yards and a score.

From there, the Spartans breezed past Nebraska (41-28), Northwestern (30-6), and Minnesota (14-3), before racing past Ohio State in the Big Ten title game.

The Spartans had, in one year, rectified the wrongs that cost them six games the year before, setting up a Rose Bowl date with Stanford — and a 24-20 victory.

Next-Season Record of 6-6 Bowl Teams

Year Following Bowl Game No. of Teams Record
Note: Includes bowl teams that finished below .500. Does not include bowl teams from the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season.

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How 6-6 Bowl Teams Have Fared Afterwards

Michigan State’s success in 2013 is more the exception than the rule when it comes to the lift 6-6 teams get from playing in a bowl game.

Over the past decade, teams that finish the college football regular season 6-6 usually finish around the same the following year despite weeks of extra bowl practices and an extra game.

In 2022, the 19 teams that went 6-6 last year combined to go 119-118, with UNC and LSU posting the best year-end record (at 9-3), while Old Dominion, Boston College, Virginia, and Virginia Tech all finished with three wins.

Over the past five 12-game regular seasons (excluding 2020 because of COVID), the teams that went 6-6 combined to go 457-432 (.514) the year after.

If you expand to include all 6-6 bowl teams over the past decade, you’ll see those squads went 762-711 (.517) the following year.

How Michigan State Looks Entering 2023

The Spartans are coming off their first losing season (in a 12-game season) since 2017, which was a year after Michigan State’s second consecutive Cotton Bowl appearance.

Unlike the 2012 MSU squad, this year’s team under Mel Tucker lost its seven contests by an average of 18.6 points per game.

Next year’s Spartans team should have a shot at going 2-1 or better during non-conference, though, thanks to playing home games against Central Michigan, FCS squad Richmond and Washington.

The Big Ten portion of Michigan State’s schedule appears rather daunting, however, with home games against Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State, interspersed with road clashes against Iowa, Rutgers, Minnesota, Ohio State and Indiana.



Christopher Boan

Christopher Boan is a staff writer for BetMichigan.com. He has covered sports and sports betting for more than seven years and has worked for publications such as ArizonaSports.com, the Tucson Weekly and the Green Valley News.

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