EAST LANSING - Fifth-year senior offensive guard Chris McDonald wants it to be known that in no uncertain terms, he and his Michigan State football teammates cannot be happy with just keeping the Spartans' bowl streak alive.
After ending the regular season with a 26-10 win at Minnesota that made MSU (6-6) bowl eligible for the sixth-straight season, McDonald said he would be one of the seniors making sure his teammates make every preparation for the school's second-ever meeting against Texas Christian University (7-5) in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (ESPN) at 10:15 p.m. on Dec. 29 in Tempe, Arizona.
"We've got to realize that winning this bowl game could make our season because it could have gone the opposite way (if MSU had lost to Minnesota),'' he said. "Winning that final game of the season, it shows a lot about this team. And eventhough we're not in the Rose Bowl or in the national championship, this game is going to be against a great team. TCU is a great team and this could be a program win for us.''
While McDonald is convinced that the 13-member senior class will cherish the additional time and practices shared with their teammates, he wants to be one of the seniors that makes sure the message of what MSU football represents in the grand scheme of the future of the program is carried forward with the juniors, sophomores and freshmen who will carry the torch next season, which should once again be headlined by high expectations.
"It's just about going after it on every play and not take anything for granted because yes, we've gone to six bowl games in a row but this year, there was a chance of us not going to a bowl game. So the guys have to know and realize that you might not go to a bowl next year. So take this opportunity to win this and send this group and this program out on a positive note into next season,'' said McDonald, who was the only lineman to start and play in every game this season.
Still, when you lose as many games as MSU did by such close margins, people might be tempted to think that the Spartans as a group didn't always exhibit the intangibles needed during the season after vaulting the program to a higher standard after two previous 11-win finishes.
"I think we went after it and we played hard every game but we lost by a couple points here and there,'' he said. "I just think every team that we played, played their best game and that that just shows a lot about who we are and maybe how other teams perceive us. That when they come in to play Michigan State that they know we're going to be a physical and tough team. Now things obviously didn't fall our way but I know we're still about moving forward and that every time we fall down, we're going to get right back up. I mean this bowl game should be a couple of good steps forward into the next season.''
O-LINE BRIGHT SPOT: The extra practices brought on by a bowl bid mean more opportunities to learn and sharpen skills for those returning in 2013. Young players benefit more than anyone.
Among the young offensive linemen that have yet to see the field that McDonald is excited about is redshirt freshman Jack Conklin.
Conklin, a 6-foot-6, 300-pound Plainwell, Mich., native, caught the eyes of his teammates and the coaches during the first week of bowl extra practices.
"I'm really into Jack Conklin right now,'' McDonald said. "He's improved this whole year and every time I've watched him, my eyes get wide and big. He's going to be a phenomenal player. I really think he's using these practices to his advantage.''
And what does McDonald see specifically from Conklin's progress?
"He's just a very physical player who goes after it every time. He has great hands and he's very coachable. He's taking everything in and he's like a sponge right now. He's soaking up every little coaching pointer he can get.''
O-LINE BRIGHT SPOT II: Defensive linemen also have perspective on young o-linemen. They go against them every day in practice.
For defensive end Marcus Rush, who already has a reputation for playing with a great motor, it's redshirt Zach Higgins who has made an eye-opening impression.
"I think overall our o-line scout team is probably the best we've had here and I think the coaches could say the same,'' Rush said.
But when he was pressed, Rush admitted there was one up-and-comer among the group who could put himself in a position to move up on the depth chart quickly.
"I think Zach Higgins has pissed some guys off,'' said Rush of the 6-4, 307-pound Ohio native, who was also redshirted this season. "He goes all out every play and when you're getting beaten up during games and you have to go up against a guy like that that's been hungry all week to play, you're going to naturally get frustrated. You can tell that's one of the scout team guys that's just hungry to play. He's got a nasty attitude.''