Michigan State was left out of the BCS despite finishing 11-1, so the Spartans' consolation prize will be playing in the Capital One Bowl for the second time in three seasons. Their opponent will be the Alabama Crimson Tide, coached by former MSU head coach Nick Saban.
As soon as the decision was made by the Sugar Bowl to select Ohio State, the Spartans became locked into the Capital One Bowl. MSU's 11-1 record is so much better than the next available team (four with a 7-5 record) that the Capital One Bowl's only option was to pick the Spartans. On the SEC side of the matchup, the Capital One Bowl had the choice between Alabama and LSU. Considering LSU played in this game last season, picking the Crimson Tide made the most sense, especially since Saban is their head coach.
As you all probably know, Saban coached at Michigan State from 1995-99. Interestingly, Saban left MSU for LSU before the 2000 Citrus Bowl (now the Capital One Bowl). The Spartans won that game against Florida, and now Saban and his former school will meet on that same field on Jan. 1, 2011.
Current MSU head coach Mark Dantonio was a defensive backs coach under Saban during his time in East Lansing. Dantonio remained at MSU for one year after Saban left, so the two have a history that only adds to the intrigue of this matchup.
The Capital One Bowl will be the first ever meeting between Michigan State and Alabama. The two schools have a home-and-home series scheduled for 2016 and 2017, so there are currently three scheduled games between these programs.
Michigan State has played in the Capital One Bowl twice before. The Spartans' first appearance in this game was, as mentioned, in 2000 against Florida, a game they won, 37-34, on a last-second field goal. MSU's most recent trip to the Capital One Bowl was on Jan. 1, 2009, against Georgia. Matthew Stafford and the Bulldogs defeated MSU, 24-12. (MSU also played in Orlando in the Champs Sports Bowl back in 2007, losing by a score of 24-21.)