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Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl preview

Big night of College Bowl games. Here's another preview by James Jack, @materialista27. Read more of his work on his dedicated College Bowl site.


Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

Saturday December 29th, 20:15 MST (03:15 GMT) Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Arizona Texas Christian University Horned Frogs vs. Michigan State Spartans

The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl has been played since 1989, and since its inception, the game has been played in the state of Arizona, for the first ten years the game was played at Arizona Stadium, on the campus of the University of Arizona in Tucson. In 2000, the bowl's organizers moved the game to Bank One Ballpark in downtown Phoenix. Finally, in 2006, the game moved to it's current location in Tempe to replace the Fiesta Bowl which had moved to University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. The game was known as the Copper Bowl from 1989 until 1996 when naming rights were purchased by Insight Enterprises. This year, Buffalo Wild Wings took over as the title sponsor after Insight Enterprises elected not to renew the fifteen-year agreement. Since 2006, the game has featured a matchup between the 5th team from the Big Ten and the 4th team from the Big-12. Including last year's game.

TCU struggled at times during its first season in the Big 12, finishing with a 7-5 record despite wins over Baylor, West Virginia and Texas. This is a different conference to the MWC. Junior quarterback Casey Pachall guided the team to victory in its first four games including a win at SMU before being arrested on suspicion of DWI in October. Pachall eventually entered rehab and withdrew from school, meaning the Horned Frogs turned to freshman Trevone Boykin. TCU lost four of their last six games, but Boykin earned some game time and important lessons in how to be a Big-12 quarterback in losing to (5)Kansas State and (11)Oklahoma. Boykin finished with 15 TD passes and nine INTs, and added 380 yards on the ground as TCU averaged 397.0 total yards per game (64th in the country). The running game struggled at times and TCU was 63rd nationally with 157.5 yards which may turn out to be a major issue against a Michigan State defense that allows just 274.5 yards per game (4th nationally, behind only (2)Alabama, Florida State and BYU). The Spartans only conceded five rushing touchdowns this season, behind only Notre Dame in the national standings. The Spartans' defense had 16 sacks and 13 interceptions during the season, so they're not a team to throw the ball around carelessly against. TCU's defense ranked 18th in the nation allowing just 332.0 yards of total offense per game so you'd expect this game to be a defensive battle. Freshman defensive end Devonte Fields picked up nine sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss.

The 6-6 Spartans lost quarterback Kirk Cousins and receivers B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin to the NFL draft and losing those three was big for a program like the Spartans'. They finished 90th in the country with 370.3 yards per game of total offense and 103rd nationally with just 20.3 points per game. Losing such key players in the passing game, meant Head Coach Mark Dantonio had to change focus from the passing game to the less complicated running game. Cousins' replacement, junior Andrew Maxwell managed 13 TDs with 9 INTs this year, but couldn't put more than 2 passing TDs in a game. His receivers also struggled to adapt to a more prominent role during the season, and his 52.9% completion rate was so low, even Denard Robinson is in front of him on the national rankings. It's been the defense that's kept the Spartans in games this season, and it helps that 9 of their 11 starters from last season returned. They finished 4th in the country in total defense and 9th in scoring defense, giving up 273.3 yards and 16.3 points per game respectively. Their record is a bit deceiving as although they have 6 losses, by a total of 30 points, 17 of which came in their 20-3 defeat by Notre Dame.

The shift to the running game has suited junior running back Le'Veon Bell, who improved considerable on his career-best mark of 948 yards set last season to finish 7th in the nation with 1648 yards and 12 of the team's 265 touchdowns. Quite simply, he has been Michigan State's offense this season.

The Horned Frogs need to be aggressive in stopping the run, they can't allow the Spartans to run all game long, because if they do, it's be a very long game for the defensive line. The secondary has to be sharp, if they get used to bringing a safety in the box, that leaves someone one-on-one with a wide receiver and if that happens too often, they'll get burned. They need to stay ahead of the game, they can't allow Michigan State to get a two-score lead as it's very difficult for a predominantly rushing based attack to score points quickly. On the other hand, if TCU can get their own two possession lead, then Michigan State will have to go to a passing game that has struggled for most of the season. Once they start to air the ball, the Horned Frogs corners will be all over the Spartan receivers so long as they have safety help over the top. There's a good reason why TCU amassed 21 interceptions during the regular season.

They have to keep the chains moving with the running game, the offensive line needs to step up and make plenty holes for Le'veon Bell. Once the running game is on a roll, the clock starts to run, leaving less time for TCU's own rushing attack when they get the ball back. Turnovers are key in any game, but especially in Bowl games, and Michigan State have to protect that ball. The defensive front seven has a big job too. With Trevone Boykin taking the ball, the Spartans need to make him try to find his receivers from the pocket. They can't allow him to scramble as he's used his feet to get him out of trouble a few times this season. As you'd expect with a freshman quarterback, Boykin has made plenty of mistakes too, he's thrown 9 interceptions and with the strength of Michigan State's secondary, there could be a pick-6 or two up for grabs in this one.

The strength of both teams on show is clearly their defenses, so the offensive line becomes a focal point for each attack. If either side can gain a significant advantage in that department, the game will be their's to lose. If it stays tight, this may come down to, heaven forbid, a quarterback duel. If that's the case, I have to give the edge to TCU, because despite his mistakes, Boykin has more potential and a game like this might just be what he needs to go on a cement himself the starting job for next season. I still think the game will be decided by the respective rushing attacks, and in that category, Le'Veon Bell's ability to carry the ball over and over and over again means that Michigan State will come out on top in this one.

Michigan State +2
Over 40 points

1 drink: Any quarter of the game produces more passing yards than rushing yards.
2 drinks: Safety
Finish it: Back-to-back interceptions.


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