The second part of the New Year’s Eve College Football Playoff is a bit more one-sided, although that’s only seen in the spread of the Game. Alabama, considered to be the best team in the nation by many, is a huge favorite and it’s not all that surprising. Michigan State hasn’t exactly pleased bettors this season and they haven’t done anything too impressive en route to a 12-1 record. The Crimson Tide opened as a -9.5 point favorite as seen at 5 Dimes Sportsbook for the Cotton Bowl.
When these teams last met in 2011, Alabama was a smaller 7.5-point favorite, yet still won 49-7. This is a different Spartan group, though, having won Four straight bowl Games since that loss. And it can’t be forgotten that they were an underdog in all Four of those meetings as well. The Spartans expect to put in a better performance against former coach Nick Saban this year.
That won’t be easy, though. Alabama already has an easy Big Ten win this year when they took down Wisconsin in the opener. A loss to Ole Miss is the only blemish on the Tide’s Schedule, and they beat every other team by double digits outside of a 19-14 win over Tennessee. It’s been a mostly run-of-the-mill season for them, but it’s also been somewhat of a down season for the SEC. Alabama won because they were more consistent than anyone else, as every other SEC team lost at least three Games this year. Teams either have a solid offense or solid defense, but not both. Alabama has both.
Michigan State is on the edge of having both. Its defense took a step back this year in large part due to injuries, and that hurt them plenty, but the Spartans still finished 5-1-1 ATS in their final seven. They aren’t getting respect because of too many close wins. Half of their wins were by single digits, including their Big Ten title Game comeback win against Iowa, in which they needed the longest drive of the college football season (time-wise) to punch in a touchdown. And yet, they managed to pull out road wins at Michigan and Ohio State, no matter how improbable they seemed.
The Crimson Tide gave up more than 23 points once this year and that was in the loss to Ole Miss. In fact, they haven’t given up more than 16 points in six straight Games and that’s been a main reason they are 4-1 ATS in their last five. MSU has played some good defenses this year in the Big Ten, so this is nothing new.
Michigan State’s offensive line has been beat up throughout the year, but will be mostly healthy for this Game, setting up a heavyweight matchup against the best run defense in the country. The Spartans have three RBs that have seen at least 100 carries and will need to find room between the tackles. If not, Connor Cook will need to have the Game of his life. Cook (24 TDs, 5 INTs) continues to step up in bigger Games and is a main reason MSU is on its current bowl streak. He and Aaron Burbridge (80 receptions, 1,219 yards, 7 TDs) have been unstoppable for most of the year. But if Cook wants to be one of the first QBs off the board in the upcoming NFL Draft, he’ll need a big performance here.
On the other end, it’s no secret what Alabama wants to do. The only issue is that MSU’s strong suit is its run defense. The Spartans will get some guys back from injury, but their secondary has been burned often this season. They have been stout against the run, though, and this will be a fun matchup to watch all Game.
Of course, no one has stopped Alabama from running the ball and that’s why Derrick Henry won the Heisman with 1,986 yards and 23 TDs. Henry saw an incredible 90 carries total in the last two Games of the season, and after a month off, could see around that number in this Game. The key to staying close with Alabama is to stop their run Game just a little bit. If MSU can get a couple stops early on, that would be huge. Quarterback Jake Coker isn’t someone that can break open the Game and Saban knows that, which is why Henry touches the ball so many times. Coker has 17 TDs and 8 INTs in his Game-managing role.
again, the Spartans have covered in Four straight bowl Games, while Alabama has lost two straight bowl Games as large favorites. The over is also 8-1 in the Tide’s last nine bowl Games. Michigan State is getting no respect by the media and usually when that happens, they come to play.
Our Pick – Typically, we’d look at a matchup between the Big 10 and the SEC and talk about the difference between the two, how the SEC is a monster Conference head over heels better than any other conference. But that doesn’t seem to be the case this year. There isn’t a team on the Alabama dance card this year that jumps off the page at us. In fact there are quite a few SEC teams that looked mediocre this year. No doubt a down year for the conference.
In fact, Michigan State may have had the morre impressive performances, specifically, knocking off Ohio State on the road.
Our numbers still point towards an Alabama win but they also suggest it won’t be by enough to get the money. In such a huge Game, with a trip to the title Game on the line, we like the Spartans to be in this one all the way with a chance to win it in the 4th quarter. Michigan State +10