Dec. 29, 10:15 p.m. ET, Tempe, Ariz. (ESPN)
TCU take by Big 12 blogger David Ubben: The Horned Frogs brought a new style of football in their first year in the Big 12, forcing the rest of the league to get used to more low-scoring games decided in the running game. The Frogs won four games this year with 27 points or less and scored fewer than 20 points in two more, while holding opponents to less than 30. The Frogs season turned when it lost Casey Pachall, who left school to seek treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, forcing redshirt freshman Trevone Boykin to learn on the job. He’s been up and down, but the Frogs live to run the ball and play defense.
They’ll face a Michigan State team which loves to do the exact same. Expect another game won by the team that wins the line of scrimmage and the time of possession battle. The Spartans are fourth nationally in total defense, and the Frogs led the Big 12 in the stat by more than 35 yards per game.
TCU clinched its eighth consecutive bowl bid with a banged-up season in the Big 12, playing with a team that was made up of 70 percent freshmen and sophomores, by far the youngest team coach Gary Patterson had ever fielded. Still, in their first year in a tougher league, the Horned Frogs finished tied for fifth and won seven games despite missing more than 20 players that it expected to have when 2011 ended. Top running back Waymon James suffered a season-ending knee injury, leaving Matthew Tucker as the lone returnee from a trio of running backs that rushed for at least 700 yards last season. Ed Wesley left the team and entered the NFL supplemental draft after spring practice. It was a season full of difficult circumstances for the Frogs, but they perservered and will try to get a jump on a promising 2013 season with a win in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Michigan State take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: The bar had been raised for Michigan State entering the fall after the Spartans recorded a team-record 11 victories in each of the past two seasons. Many pegged Mark Dantonio’s squad to reach its first Rose Bowl in a quarter-century and continue to establish itself as a new power in the Big Ten. Things didn’t work out that way, as the Spartans repeatedly came up short, struggled at home and needed a Week 13 win just to become bowl-eligible for the sixth straight year, a team record.
A talent-stocked Spartans defense did its part, finishing in the top 10 nationally in total defense (fourth), scoring defense (10th), rushing defense (eighth) and pass defense (ninth). Middle linebacker Max Bullough and cornerback Darqueze Dennard are among the standouts on a unit that allowed fewer than 20 points in eight games.
Most of Michigan State’s problems came on offense, as the Spartans struggled to replace quarterback Kirk Cousins and his top three receivers. Junior signal caller Andrew Maxwell had mixed results in his first year as the starter, and while a young receiving corps improved, there was little continuity in the pass game. Running back Le'Veon Bell did his share, taking the ball more times (350) than any other FBS player and recording 1,648 yards and 11 touchdowns. But the unit struggled to turn yards into points and lost five Big Ten games by a total of 13 points, including all four conference contests at home.
Bowl practices should help the young offense, but Michigan State’s defense likely will need a big effort against TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl to secure the team’s second straight postseason win.