No. 3 Michigan State Spartans (12-1 SU, 5-7-1 ATS) vs. No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide (12-1 SU, 7-6 ATS)
Cotton Bowl Preview
Date/Time: Thursday December 31st, 8:00PM EST
Where: AT&T Stadium Arlington, T.X.
by Jay, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: MSU +9.5/ALA -9.5
Over/Under Total: 46
The 2nd semi-final college football playoff matchup will take place New Years Eve night from AT&T Stadium when the no. 3 Michigan State Spartans collide with the no. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide in the Cotton Bowl. Alabama is the only team that has returned from last years inaugural college football playoffs debut. Alabama was surprisingly knocked off by Ohio State in last years semi-final and the Buckeyes went on to win the National Championship. This year Alabama returns looking to avenge last years early knockout and make a claim towards yet another National Championship.
Both Alabama and Michigan State hit a stumbling block earlier this season. The Crimson Tide was upset early in the year against Ole Miss but rallied to score 10 straight wins including an SEC Championship mirroring their 2014 path to the inaugural playoffs. Michigan State suffered a one point loss to Nebraska in early November but rallied to score 4 straight victories including two wins over Ohio State and Iowa that were ranked inside the top 5. Now both schools will get a chance to keep their momentum alive as they are just 1 win away from playing for a National Championship.
Ironically, both teams share a lot of similar tendencies that cannot be ignored. In fact, it could be argued that Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban and Michigan State Head Coach Mark Dantonio share very similar coaching philosophies. Both Saban and Dantonio rely on premier rushing offenses that are backed by outstanding play on the defensive side of the football. This year Michigan State has resorted to more passing than normal but that is mainly a product of their talent in the passing game.
Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook has thrown for 2,921 yards with 24 touchdowns and just 5 picks in what can be described as a fairly mediocre offense. However, wide receiver Aaron Burbridge has been phenomenal in the passing game. Burbridge has hauled in 80 catches for 1,219 yards and 7 touchdowns on the season as the Spartans main go to guy. The main question that I keep asking heading into this years Cotton Bowl matchup is can the Spartans maintain enough offense to win this game?
Perhaps that question remains to be answered, but the Spartans have definitely proven that their defense is championship worthy. Michigan States defense has returned to form after a rather slow start to the season. The Spartans have not given up more than 16 points in a single game since that loss to Nebraska in the first week of November. This Spartans defense completely shut down a dangerous Ohio State offense to the tune of just 14 points and then held on against a tough Iowa team in the Big Ten Championship Game for a 16-13 victory. If Michigan States defense can continue to play that well against Alabama mainly by stopping Derrick Henry, then they could easily have a chance to win this game outright.
The only problem is that stopping Alabamas rushing attack has been nearly impossible this season. Running back Derrick Henry shifted into another form during the mid-point of the season and has been nothing short of incredible. In the final 6 conference games of the season, Henry carried rushing lines of: 236, 143, 210, 204, 271, and lastly 189 in the SEC Championship Game against Florida. Those rushing lines helped Henry secure this years Heisman Trophy becoming just the 2nd Alabama player to accomplish the feat. Obviously, Henry gets the most credit but a lot should be said for Alabamas offensive line which is easily the best in the country.
Alabama has dominated in the trenches on the offensive side of the ball and that has been very apparent late in games when they wear down opposing defenses. If Michigan State has trouble moving the football which I expect could be the case against a really talented Alabama defense, I think the opportunity becomes more likely that the Crimson Tide offense will wear down the Spartans defense. The only downside to that argument is a few big plays could change the entire tempo and approach to this game when you consider both offenses are fairly conservative. It would not take but 1-2 turnovers/big plays to really sway this football game so it will be interesting to see how this plays out inside AT&T Stadium.
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I am not convinced Michigan State can move the football enough to compete in this game. I dont believe this will be a good matchup for the Spartans and the Crimson Tide continue to roll. Take Alabama -9.5
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