Is it Michigan State's turn to upset Alabama in the College Football Playoff?
Who: Michigan State vs. Alabama
What: Cotton Bowl (College Football Playoff semifinal)
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX
When: Thursday, 8 p.m. ET
Spread: Alabama -10
Matchup to watch: Michigan State O-line vs. Alabama D-line
Both of these teams are so talented up front that you could probably flip around the units and make an argument that that should be the matchup to watch. But we’ll just stick with the units loaded with All-Americans. Jack Allen and Jack Conklin are two of the best in the country blocking both the run and pass. They’ll have plenty of pressure on them to protect Connor Cook and his injured shoulder. Against Alabama, obviously, that’ll be quite the task.
A’Shawn Robinson is the guy up front that is capable of wreaking the most havoc. Even when he doesn’t get to the quarterback, he can take on double teams and create lanes for Reggie Ragland and Co. hurry Cook. Alabama is so dangerous because it doesn’t need to blitz to take over. MSU has faced plenty of talented defensive units, but none dominate the trenches quite like the Tide.
Thing I’m excited to see: The Chip
By now, we’re all probably sick of hearing about it. What most people don’t realize is that Michigan State doesn’t define “playing with a chip” as going out and trying to prove everyone wrong. It’s a mindset. It’s about being aggressive, attacking opportunities and letting that do the talking more than anything.
In big games, MSU has had that chip. We certainly saw it on that epic final drive against Iowa. We saw it when the Spartans were without Cook at Ohio State. We even saw it on that final play against Michigan when Dantonio sent the kitchen sink at Blake O’Neill. Everyone wants to know if we’ll see MSU come out with that same edge. We can talk about talent all day, but the Spartans know by now that if they don’t show up and finish plays, they’ll be in trouble. You can bet Dantonio has repeated that message a few times.
Number to remember: 20
We all know that Derrick Henry is unlike any back Michigan State has seen all year. But it’s the type of runner Henry is that separates him from all of MSU’s past tailback foes. MSU actually hasn’t faced a back that received 20-plus carries in a game since the B1G opener against Purdue. Henry might have that by halftime. Why is that important to know? Because the Spartans aren’t used to going against a guy that wears on a defense over the course of the game.
Nobody in the country is better than Henry at bruising a defense and taking over down the stretch. MSU has to be able to get off the field early. Long, Henry-led touchdown drives in the first half can affect teams in crunch time. We saw what happened when the Spartans were gassed against Nebraska. Shilique Calhoun and Malik McDowell are going to get attacked all night. The less jabs they take in the first few rounds of the fight, the better.
Prediction: Alabama 27, Michigan State 24
I cannot fathom a world in which Dantonio has a month to prepare this team for a game and it comes out flat. The Alabama blowout that some are predicting isn’t indicative of anything we’ve seen since Cook took the reigns of the starting job in 2013. The first few series are going to tell us a lot about Cook’s health and how much Dantonio wants to rely on him. The thing I can’t get past is Alabama’s run defense. Michigan State plays at an elite level when it establishes balance. L.J. Scott and Gerald Holmes are capable of doing that, but perhaps not to the degree MSU needs to consistently move the ball downfield against the nation’s top unit. I think this game has a similar slugfest feel to the B1G Championship, but this time, MSU is on the opposite end of a final-drive score. Unfortunately for the Spartans, the ride ends in Dallas.