Going into the 2013 season, not many outside the Michigan State football program thought highly of the Spartans' chances to make an impact nationally.
Well, not many were right as the Spartans sit as the No. 4 team in the nation and are set to play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1988.
With a four-point loss to Notre Dame as the lone tarnish on the season – which Pat Narduzzi blamed on lack of pressure on the quarterback and Darqueze Dennard pinned on not forcing turnovers – the Spartans were a few plays away from being in the national title discussion.
So while winning the Rose Bowl remains the focus, having reached Pasadena has only whetted the desire of the Spartans to be even better in the coming years.
"After this game's over and done with and we're on to next year, we're gonna hold our hands up and instead of saying, ‘Big Ten champs,' we're gonna say ‘National champs,'" quarterback Connor Cook said. "Because we feel like we've got the guys to do that, and once we achieve greatness like this, there's nothing less you want to achieve."
The standard has been steadily rising since Mark Dantonio's arrival in East Lansing. Just making a bowl game in his first season was an accomplishment valued greatly by Spartan faithful everywhere.
But with a pair of Big Ten titles and division titles – and a two-game Bowl winning streak – the program now expects more.
Junior defensive end Marcus Rush said he thinks the next dream has to be a national championship.
"I think next year, coming in after this game – hopefully with a win – I think that's going to be something we look at," he said. "It's obviously a goal for every one of us, next year and the years coming, because this program has definitely changed from a program just trying to get a bowl game, to going to a bowl game, to going to the Rose Bowl, to going to the national championship."
And with veterans with the mentality of winning bigger games and doing things the Michigan State program hasn't seen since the 1960s, it is snowballing down to the freshman class – which only knows Rose Bowl seasons now.
"I'm so excited," freshman Damion Terry said. "I hope we can go to the Rose Bowl every year and then hopefully a national championship."