Michigan State beat the college football odds twice this year as the underdog? Can the Spartans do it a third time Thursday against the Alabama Crimson Tide?
If there's one thing all four teams in this year's College Football Playoff share, it's that each needed a lucky break along the way to reach this point. Whether it was a favorable or missed call by a referee, pulling out a game late when all hope seemed lost, or simply needing other teams to lose, each semifinalist required divine intervention.
For Mark Dantonio and the Michigan State Spartans, the lucky break came on October 18 in Ann Arbor of all places against rival Michigan. It was there that the Spartans pulled off a most unlikely victory over the Wolverines thanks to a botched snap on the game's final play with Michigan State trailing 23-21.
The victory kept the Spartans undefeated at the time. Though they lost at Nebraska three weeks later and needed to upset defending national champ Ohio State on the road just before Thanksgiving plus beat an undefeated Iowa team in the Big Ten Championship, that miracle in Ann Arbor is the biggest reason Michigan State is in line to play for the national title.
MSU An Underdog For Just 3rd Time In 2015
Michigan State (12-1 straight up, 5-7-1 against the spread) faces a very tough task in the Cotton Bowl against No. 2 Alabama. The No. 3 Spartans are 10 point underdogs according to the latest glance at SBR's live college football odds, only the third time this year they've been getting points, the other two being the road tilts at Michigan and Ohio State. The total has been inching its way down since opening at 49, at Bookmaker presently listing 46.
While the win at Michigan was a lucky break for the Spartans, it turned into an unlucky break for the game's hero, defensive back Jalen Watts-Jackson who scored the winning touchdown and suffered a dislocated hip in the end zone celebration. Though he's out, Michigan State does have good news for safety R.J. Williamson who is probable following a bicep injury.
Can Dantonio Get Best Of His Former Boss?
One more thing the Spartans and Crimson Tide is these two coaches know each other very well. Dantonio served on Nick Saban's staff when Saban was at Michigan State, and the first time the two met, it was the mentor who got the better of the student. Alabama crushed the Spartans in the 2011 Capital One Bowl, 49-7, running all over MSU and humiliating Dantonio's charges on both sides of the football.
Dantonio's first task is to have this year's version of the Spartans better prepared for the opening kickoff, and it will be up to his staff to make adjustments early just to stay inside the spread much less win outright.
Michigan State is a much better defensive team this time than when the schools met four years ago. Assuming the Spartans play their brand of defense, the second thing State needs to do is protect quarterback Connor Cook. The Crimson Tide lead the country with 49 sacks on top of holding opponents to 74 YPG on the ground, and that puts a ton of pressure on MSU's offensive line. It's a tall order, but indeed doable if the Spartans can generate some early sustained drives.