Favored by 10 on the college football odds board, the best way for the Alabama Crimson Tide to get past Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl is to simply not beat themselves.
Three long years. That's how much time has passed since Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide last hoisted the hardware after winning the National Championship. Before you laugh and shrug three years off as not a very long time at all, remember this is Alabama we're talking about, where sitting on top of the college gridiron world has become expected, and a Crimson Tide team that won three BCS titles from 2009-12.
Saban and his crew have certainly done their best to win another since taking down Notre Dame in the Orange bowl for the 2012 crown. The Tide have won 35 games during the 3-year drought, against just five losses, and they made the semifinals of last year's College Football Playoff, losing out to eventual champion Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, 42-35.
'Bama Expected To Roll As 10 Point Chalk
Alabama (12-1 straight up, 7-6 against the spread) will try and avoid a 1st-round exit in this year's CFP, and the Crimson Tide will get another crack at a Big Ten school in Thursday's Cotton Bowl, set for an 8 PM (ET). They'll be going up against the Michigan State Spartans, and the college football odds have the Tide pegged as 10 point chalk, that spread up a half from the opener.
The clash between two of the nation's top defenses has one of the lower totals of any remaining bowl game; at 5Dimes, carrying 46½ for the scoreboard tally, down nearly a field goal from the initial 49 hung at that sports book.
One way for the Crimson Tide to beat the Spartans is just play like they did against Michigan State five years ago when the clubs collided in the Capital One Bowl. It's the only time the two storied programs have met, and the result was a lopsided 49-7 Alabama victory. That game pitted a No. 16 Crimson Tide against No. 9 Michigan State, Alabama easily beating an 8 point spread while rolling up nearly 550 yards of offense against 171 for the Spartans.
Tide Must Pressure MSU's Cook
Even with Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry in their backfield, Alabama is going to find it very tough to repeat the 275 yards rushing gained against Michigan State in that game. The Spartans are ninth in the country allowing just over 113 YPG on the ground, meaning Jake Coker and his receiving corps is going to have to move the chains through the air.
Alabama's defense, which ranks second in total yards allowed (258 ypg) and first in rushing (74 ypg) is about as good as it gets, but will have to keep MSU quarterback Connor Cook pressured throughout the game. That's one thing the Crimson Tide front has been able to do, leading the country with 46 sacks on the season.
More than anything else, the best thing the Tide can do to advance to the national title game is simply not beat themselves. That's what Alabama did in its only loss of the season, turning the ball over five times and suffering breakdowns on long Ole Miss pass plays back in Week 3. The Crimson Tide seem to have fixed that problem, committing just 10 giveaways in the 10 games since.