Some of college football's best prospects, like Michigan defensive lineman Rashan Gary, are leaving for the NFL Draft and not playing in their team’s bowl game.
So when Michigan State running back LJ Scott announced Wednesday night he’s leaving East Lansing for the NFL Draft, but will still play with the Spartans (7-5, 5-4 in Big Ten) in their Redbox Bowl appearance against Oregon (8-4, 5-4 in Pac-12) on New Year’s Eve, MSU coach Mark Dantonio said it speaks to Scott’s character.
“I think it makes a statement first of all, in terms of how he feels about our football team,” Dantonio said during a teleconference Thursday afternoon.
Dantonio said during his weekly news conference on Nov. 6 that Scott could possibly redshirt, after dealing with an unspecified ankle injury suffered against Arizona State on Sept. 8.
And as it looked like Scott was going to redshirt, Dantonio said talks “fluctuated back-and-forth in terms of what he was going to do,” which the 6-foot-1, 225-pound senior confirmed in his Twitter statement.
“Having dealt with with various humbling injuries during the 2018 regular season, I initially believed the best plan for me was to return to the Spartans as a redshirt senior next season,” Scott said. “As the season has drawn closer to an end, I’ve had time to properly reflect and discuss all of my options with my coaches and family to decide the absolute best course of action for me going forward. After a ton of thought, prayer and careful consideration, I have decided to enter the 2019 NFL Draft as a senior.”
Dantonio said Scott is on schedule to graduate in May with a degree in sociology, and is also on track to play in the Redbox Bowl.
“He’s been practicing intermittently, because we’re sort of on the edge whether to play him or not,” Dantonio said. “But he has been practicing and working out. So, we’ve got time to get himself ready to go. Again, it will be a great challenge for him and everybody else involved here against Oregon.”
Like Scott, Dantonio said he expects all players who’ve suffered injuries, but not season-ending injuries, to play in the Redbox Bowl.
But he said any questions regarding players leaving for the NFL Draft will have to wait.
“We’re not going to talk about those things right now,” Dantonio said. “I think some of that is an ongoing process. We’re going to focus on the Redbox Bowl in this press conference, and I’ll deal with that when I get home.”
On Oregon’s side, Ducks coach Mario Cristobal said he doesn’t expect any players to skip the matchup with the Spartans, including quarterback Justin Herbert.
Herbert, who’s a 6-foot-6, 233 pound junior, is regarded as one of the top quarterbacks in next year’s draft after throwing 2,985 yards for 28 touchdowns, which is tied for ninth in the nation.
But Cristobal said if somebody elects to sit out the Redbox Bowl, “it’ll be addressed immediately” and players who decide not to participate, won’t travel to Santa Clara, California, avoiding a repeat of what happened last season when then-Oregon running back Royce Freeman announced he was not going to attend the Las Vegas Bowl days before the game.
“It’s not in a bad way, it’s just that we want guys that are on board, guys that wanna play,” Cristobal said. “If that situation does arise, we’ll respect that decision. But at the same time, that decision comes with not being a part of the bowl experience.”
That experience, Cristobal said, is Oregon's 17th-ranked scoring offense (37.2 points per game) getting to face MSU’s 13th-ranked defense in terms of points allowed (18 points per game).
A game between two “national brands,” according to Dantonio.
“The amount of work we’ve done isn’t minimal, but it’s not extensive, so there’s a base understanding,” Cristobal said. “What I’ve been watching between plane rides, is the same thing that I’ve mentioned a few days ago. Michigan State is a physical and aggressive brand of football. Very disciplined, explosive players at the play-making positions. So, we understand the challenges in front of us.”
Dantonio had similar things to say about the Ducks, who like MSU, have won and lost close games.
“Very impressed what I’ve seen in terms of their skill players, always have good skill out there,” Dantonio said. “Outstanding quarterback. Defensively, they’re going to play extremely hard, play out of the 3-4 front… So it should be a great game and a great matchup.”
Dantonio on Urban Meyer’s retirement
With Dantonio being the only Big Ten coach to have more than one win against Ohio State coach Urban Meyer — a Big Ten championship win in 2013, and a win in 2015 to help lead MSU to a Big Ten championship and College Football Playoffs — he said “it sort of says it all.”
Meyer announced Tuesday afternoon he will retire after the 6th-ranked Buckeyes' Rose Bowl matchup against No. 9 Washington on New Year's Day, and current offensive coordinator Ryan Day will take over for Ohio State.
Meyer, 53, went 82-9 in his seven years in Columbus, including a national championship win against Oregon in 2014.
And the success Meyer has had, especially in this profession, “is difficult” and can “wear on you at some point,” Dantonio said.
“First of all, I want to congratulate him and wish him the best in his next endeavors,” Dantonio said. “It’s an outstanding program. They’ve had tremendous success. And when I sit there talking to our people on the flight out, you can name the people they’ve lost to on two hands. That’s unbelievable. So he’s had tremendous success there, and want to congratulate him on that.”