Mario Cristobal and Mark Dantonio will spend part of New Year’s Eve on the same football field again.
Oregon plays Michigan State in the Redbox Bowl on Dec. 31 at Levi’s Stadium (noon, Fox).
Dantonio’s Spartans lost to Alabama in the College Football Playoff on Dec. 31, 2015. Cristobal was an assistant for the Crimson Tide, which went on to win the national championship.
During a joint news conference at a San Francisco hotel Thursday to promote the Redbox Bowl, the two coaches were asked what impact the national focus on the playoff has had on lower-tier bowls.
“The matchups that have been created, there are some incredible football games,” Cristobal said. “(The bowls) provide everyone throughout the holiday season some opportunities to watch great football. I know we’re excited about it. We’re going to bring some excitement to the area and the game itself.
“I’m all about it.”
The Ducks finished 8-4 overall and 5-4 in the Pac-12 during Cristobal’s first full season leading the program. The Spartans are 7-5 overall after a 5-4 finish in the Big Ten.
“First of all, there’s only four teams that can get there,” Dantonio said of the playoff. “Most of the continent or the United States of America feels like that’s all there is to it. There’s a lot of other good football teams out there that are very excited to go play at other venues. I think bowl games are about other life experiences and about challenges and about trying to move your program forward to the next phase, the next year.
“Our guys are very excited to come and play. We’re looking forward to the competition.”
The winner of the top-10 matchups between the teams in 2014 (Oregon won 46-27 at Autzen Stadium) and 2015 (Michigan State won 31-28 in East Lansing) went on to play in the College Football Playoff.
“It was an exciting time for both programs,” Dantonio said.
The Ducks and Spartans have split six all-time meetings with the home team winning each time. Oregon and Michigan State have another home-and-home series scheduled for 2029-30.
Oregon only had two representatives — defensive end Jalen Jelks and special teams player Brenden Schooler — on the all-Pac-12 first team selected by the coaches.
Cristobal was asked about the perceived slights of his players, specifically Calvin Throckmorton, who Pro Football Focus graded out as the top offensive lineman in the Pac-12.
“Well, certainly surprised by it,” Cristobal said. “I think we all know the caliber of player that Calvin is, and a couple of other guys are. That’s something that the focus has to be on, at the next opportunity you leave no doubt, instead of focusing on the fact that it wasn’t recognized in that respect. It’s been recognized in many other ways. …
“(Throckmorton’s) best football is still ahead of him, and I think we’ll see a lot of it.”
On Thursday, Throckmorton was named first-team all-Pac-12 by the Associated Press, along with teammates Shane Lemieux (left guard) and Justin Hollins (outside linebacker).
Center Jake Hanson, wide receiver Dillon Mitchell, nose tackle Jordon Scott, cornerback Thomas Graham and safety Ugo Amadi were on the AP all-Pac-12 second team released Thursday.
Offensive line moving on
Oregon’s depth on the offensive line took a hit with backup Jacob Capra announcing this week that he is leaving the program as a graduate transfer.
Cristobal noted that two talented true freshmen, Penei Sewell and Steven Jones, will be healthy enough to return for the bowl game and Dallas Warmack and Alex Forsyth have also emerged as dependable rotation players.
“We certainly want guys to pursue opportunities somewhere else if it doesn’t quite work out at our place,” Cristobal said. “We feel real strong about our offensive line.”
No skipping for Scott
Michigan State standout running back LJ Scott, a senior who could have used his redshirt season after only playing in four regular-season games due to injury, announced that he will play in the Redbox Bowl.
“I think it makes a statement in terms of how he feels about our football team,” Dantonio said of Scott’s decision to play in a bowl game instead of just getting ready to pursue an NFL career.
Cristobal doesn’t anticipate any Oregon players opting to skip the bowl. If any Ducks decide to sit out to avoid injury ahead of the draft, as running back Royce Freeman did last year at the Las Vegas Bowl, they will not travel with the team for the game.