What looks to be the best bowl matchup outside the College Football Playoff is the Jan. 1 Cotton Bowl in Arlington, where No. 8 Michigan State faces No. 5 Baylor. The Bears are 3-point favorites on Bet365 NCAA football odds with a total of 71.5.
What's Mood on Bears?
How excited will Baylor (11-1, 8-1 Big 12) be to be in this game as the first team out of the playoff? The Bears probably felt great about their chances of jumping into the fourth spot after beating routing good Kansas State team 38-27 in the regular-season finale. However, Ohio State was even more impressive on Dec. 6 in trashing Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. Both Baylor and TCU seemed to be hurt by not playing in a conference championship game and that the Big 12 considered them co-champions even though Baylor beat TCU. Baylor joined Oklahoma as the only school in the league's 18-year existence to win back-to-back Big 12 titles. Baylor's only loss was Oct. 18, 41-27 at a decent West Virginia team. The Bears were 3-0 vs. teams they faced that were ranked at the time.
You figure the Bears could go one of two ways here. They could pout and not care, much like Alabama did last year in getting torched by Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl after the Tide's national title hopes were killed by a loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl. Or Baylor could show the committee that it made a huge mistake by beating Michigan State like a drum -- worse than Ohio State did.
This will be the final game for Baylor senior Bryce Petty, certainly the best quarterback in school history with all due respect to former Heisman winner Robert Griffin III (Petty likely won't be a first-round pick like RGIII was). Petty didn't have quite the numbers he did as a junior -- he was hurt a bit this year -- but passed for 3,305 yards and 26 touchdowns, while completing 62.1 percent of his passes and only throwing six interceptions. He has thrown a TD in a school-record 24 straight games played. Baylor leads the nation in total offense (581.3 ypg) and scoring (48.8 ppg).
The Bears will be appearing in a bowl game for a fifth straight season for the first time in program history. Baylor was one of the biggest favorites on college football odds on the board last bowl season in the Fiesta Bowl against Central Florida but was surprised 52-42.
Baylor is 7-4-1 against the NCAA football betting spread this season and 7-5 'over/under.' The Bears and Spartans had no common opponents in 2014.
Cook Coming Back for MSU
Michigan State already has had a good week as junior quarterback Connor Cook has announced he will return to school next year. He was a borderline first-round prospect. Cook could be the Big Ten's second-best Heisman candidate to open next season behind whomever starts at quarterback for Ohio State: Braxton Miller or J.T. Barrett. Cook passed for 2,900 yards and 22 touchdowns in his first full season as Michigan State's starter this year. He started most of last year and led Michigan State to the Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl victory.
The Spartans (10-2, 7-1 Big Ten) were clearly the second-best team in the Big Ten but lost to the best one: Ohio State. The Buckeyes couldn't be stopped offensively in a 49-37 win in East Lansing. That Michigan State defense, considered one of the nation's best, also was steamrolled on Sept. 6 in Oregon in a 46-27 loss. Otherwise it played typically well. Sparty ranked 12th nationally in scoring defense. The Spartans lead the FBS in turnover margin (+1.67 per game). The defense has forced 33 turnovers (16 fumbles, 17 interceptions), which is tied for third most in the FBS.
The MSU offense was much better than expected, ranking seventh in scoring at 43.1 points per game (school-record 517 points). As noted above, Cook had a nice year. Running back Jeremy Langford carried 249 times for 1,360 yards and 10 scores. He enters this game with nine straight 100-yard outings. Cook's top receiver was Tony Lippett, who caught 60 passes for 1,124 yards and 11 scores. This will be the final collegiate game for Langford and Lippett.
It's the eighth straight bowl game for MSU, the second-longest streak in the Big Ten. It has won the past three -- against Stanford, TCU and Georgia -- by a combined seven points. Michigan State has faced Baylor once: in 1968.
Michigan State is 8-4 against the spread this season and 9-3 'over/under' on NCAA football odds.
College Football Pick: Baylor -3 and 'over' 71.5 points at 5Dimes. The Bears clearly will have an enormous following at the game -- and I think a chip on the players will have a chip on their shoulders. Baylor is 7-1 ATS in its past eight non-conference games. The 'over' is 5-0 in Michigan State's past six out of conference. The 'over' is 6-1 in Baylor's past six non-conference games.