Michigan State (12-1) vs Alabama (12-1)
When: Thursday, December 31st 2015
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX
Time: 8:00 ET | TV: ESPN
The Alabama Crimson Tide will play a Big Ten team for the second year in a row in the College Football Playoffs when they take on Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl. The Tide lost to Ohio State in last year’s semifinals, but are 10-point favorites in this contest. Many people wrote Alabama off when they lost to Ole Miss back in September, but Nick Saban’s team has not last a game since and are on a roll. The Tide rolled up double-digit wins in nine of their last ten wins punctuated by a 29-15 win over Florida in the SEC Championship. They held their opponents to less than 20 points in nine of those contests as well. Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry had a record-breaking season for Alabama. He ran for an SEC-record 1,986 yards to go with 23 touchdowns and was a work-horse down the stretch rushing 80 times in the last two games. Senior quarterback Jake Coker completed 65.7% of his passes for 2,489 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions, but did not throw a pick over his last three games. Freshman Calvin Ridley has taken over the void Amari Cooper left and caught 75 passes for 893 yards this season. Alabama averaged 34.1 points a game this season, but its their defense that stood out. They are third in FBS in points allowed (14.4), second in total defense (258.1 yards a game), and tops against the run allowing a measly 74 yards a contest. Safety Eddie Jackson has a team-leading five interceptions and has returned them for 230 yards and two touchdowns. Jonathan Allen leads the Tide with 10 sacks.
Only a one-point loss against Nebraska prevented the Spartans from making the playoffs as an undefeated team. They won a hard-fought Big Ten title game 16-13 over Iowa after upsetting Ohio State two-weeks earlier without starting QB Connor Cook. The defense shut down the Buckeyes in that game and now Cook says he’s about 100% healthy. The senior has thrown a school-record 71 career touchdown passes and ranks second in passing yards (8,984) behind Kirk Cousins (9,131 from 2008-11). Cook completed just 56.9% of his passes, but was only intercepted five times. Senior wide receiver Aaron Burbridge broke a school record with 80 receptions this season to go along with his 1,219 yards and seven touchdowns. Freshman LJ Scott rushed for a team-high 691 yards and 11 touchdowns while getting the decisive 1-yard touchdown to beat Iowa in the Big Ten title game. The Spartans allowed 20.5 points per game and were very stingy against the run holding opponents to just 113.1 yards a game on the ground – 9th in FBS. The defense really clamped down in the last four games holding each opponent to 16 or less. They are susceptible to the pass allowing a 73rd best 229.8 yards a game.
This is a pretty solid Michigan State team, but this Alabama defense is outstanding. They create turnovers and will put a lot of pressure on Cook. Henry should have another big game even against this Spartan defensive line. As long as Coker doesn’t make any big mistakes, Alabama should roll.
Pick: Alabama -10