A full day of college football this Saturday wraps up with the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl as TCU and Michigan State both look to end somewhat disappointing seasons with a bowl win despite posting a losing record in their conferences. In many ways, the programs mirror each other coming off 11-win seasons with solid defenses but offenses that struggled resulting in underwhelming seasons including failing to win a conference game at home. One of these teams will end their season on a positive note with a win out West.
When to Watch: 10:15 PM ET, Saturday, December 29, 2012
Where to Watch: Live on ESPN from Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Arizona
What to Watch for
When Michigan State has the ball: The Spartans offense has struggled all year after losing Kirk Cousins, B.J. Cunningham, and Keshawn Martin to the NFL. They rank 109th in the country in scoring offense averaging just 20 points per game. The Spartans reached 30 just twice this season and were held under 20 six times. Their quarterbacked by junior Andrew Maxwell who threw for 2,578 yards while starting all of Spartans games and throwing just 13 touchdowns to go with his nine interceptions.
The strength of the Spartans offense is definitely their running game behind Le’Veon Bell who opened the year with a bang running for 210 yards and a pair of touchdowns against a tough Boise State defense and added two more 200-yard games including a season-high 266 in the regular season finale at Minnesota. Bell totaled 1,648 yards good enough for third in the country in rushing yards per game.
To run the ball effectively, Bell will have to overcome a TCU rushing defense that finished in the top 10 in rushing defense and the top 20 in total defense. Freshman Devonte Fields is one of the top defensive ends in the country leading the Big 12 in tackles for loss with 17.5 including 9.0 sacks. The leader in the defensive backfield is Junior Jason Verrett who was on multiple postseason awards lists after finishing with six interceptions, and 20 passes defended. Verrett also had a huge blocked FG in the Horned Frogs win over West Virginia.
When TCU has the ball: The TCU offense has taken some time to round into form after a mid-season setback and having to go to a freshman under center. The Horned Frogs started the season with junior Casey Pachall under center as they ran out to a 4-0 start and a #15 ranking. On October 4, the season changed when Pachall was arrested on suspicion of DWI and eventually left the program. Trevone Boykin stepped in and started the final eight games of the season finishing the regular sesason with 1,853 yards, 15 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. The offense of TCU finished in the middle of the national rankings in most major categories lacking a big-time playmaker, but getting nice road wins at Texas and West Virginia to finish 2-2 in their final four games all of which came against ranked teams.
The defense of the Spartans was one of the tops in the nation finishing tenth in scoring defense, eighth in rushing defense, ninth in passing defense, and fourth in total defense. Michigan State allowed just five rushing touchdowns all year and had three players named to the All-Big Ten first team. Junior linebacker Max Bullough was a semifinalist for the Butkus Award after leading the team in tackles with 102 and tackles for loss with 12. He was joined on the team by defensive backs Johnny Adams (who won’t be available for this game) and Darqueze Dennard who finished with three picks, seven pass break-ups, and ten passes defended. The Spartans have leaned on their defense all year and they should be able to count on them again in this one.
Who to Watch for (NFL Prospects)
From Michigan State, the junior class has standouts who may or may not enter the draft early this year. Defensive end William Gholston and running back Le’Veon Bell could both be third or fourth round selections if the elect to forgo their final year of eligibility. Bell has reportedly dropped some weight and feels quicker and faster which could help him move up draft boards. However, Bell could return to East Lansing for another season. Gholston could easily move into the first round after another monster year with a positive pre-draft process. The Spartans could also have cornerback Johnny Adams (injured for this game), defensive tackle Anthony Rashad White, offensive guard Chris McDonald, and kicker Dan Conroy drafted in the later rounds this year.
From TCU, the best prospect is Blaize Foltz, an offensive guard who could be picked toward the end of the draft after a solid season which earned him All-Big 12 honorable mention from the coaches in his conference.
Michigan State’s physical defense should be able to contain the TCU offense although the extra practices are sure to have helped Boykin’s development. The Spartans have gone the whole year relying on their defense and Le’Veon Bell which should be a recipe for success in this one. The physical run-first style of the Big 10 plays to their advantage and they should be able to impose their will up front and ride the game’s best play-maker, Le’Veon Bell to bowl success. Michigan State finally got a bowl win after a long draught last year beating Georgia in a thrilling triple-overtime Outback Bowl. That experience will help them as they face TCU’s freshman stand-outs. On Friday, the Golden Gophers of the Big 10 hung right in with Texas Tech of the Big 12 although they ultimately came up short. In this one I thienk the Big 10 kocks off the Big 12.
Michigan State comes in at 3.5 point underdogs which in a game where points will be precious is actually more than it seems. I’d gladly take the Spartans and the points as they close a busy day of football out with at least a cover, but I’m comfortable picking them to win this one outright. I don’t have a ton of confidence points on this one in Bowl Mania, but I’m picking MSU for the close, dramatic victory.