What's the best way to begin 2015? How about a Bloody Mary and black-eyed peas, plus a free College Football pick for the Cotton Bowl matchup between Baylor and Michigan State?
Black-eyed peas and a Bloody Mary? Why yes, that is the way I generally start my day at the beginning of each year. Trouble is, my days -- be they January 1st or otherwise -- crank up around 5 a.m. here in Texas, which means by the time I do enjoy a traditional New Year's Day breakfast, there will still be 6+ hours to go before the start of the 2015 Cotton Bowl.
Somehow, I'll manage to survive until then without already being drunk and out of it when the No. 5 Baylor Bears and No. 8 Michigan State Spartans boot things in at 12:30 PM (ET). Smoking a cut of oink will help me get through those hours, along with another Bloody Mary or two.
Baylor opened as 1 point chalk according to SBR's live college football odds, the spread since rising to -3 across the board. There has also been a corresponding increase in the total, from 70 when it first went out to the 71-72 range.
Jerry's playground in Arlington will host this year's contest, just the second time Baylor and Michigan State have met on the gridiron. The first and only took place in East Lansing way back in 1968, the Spartans posting a 28-10 win that helped them finish 5-5 on the year over a 3-7 Bears bunch.
State Aims For Fourth 11+ Win Season In 5 Years
Count me among those who believe the toughest Big Ten regular season schedule was played by Mark Dantonio and the Spartans. The early loss to Oregon really put Michigan State in an early hole, and the setback at home to Ohio State sealed the grave. Those two games, as it turns out, really shaped the course of the playoff alignment.
The Spartans were a solid spread bet all year, cashing eight of 12, and an even better play on the 'over' where nine of a dozen games went past the tally. Defense failed in the two setbacks to send both past the totals, but the stop unit generally held up very well over the course of the schedule. State was one of seven teams to limit teams to fewer than 300 yards per game, along with being one of 12 to hold opponents to less than 20 points per game.
Connor Cook and the offense were quietly efficient, not nearly getting enough focus to this point despite ranking 13th in total yards (496 ypg). Put the go unit together with the stop unit, and you have a package that was first in turnover margin (+20) as Cook & Co. gave it away just 13 times while the defense came away with 33 takeaways (3rd).
Proverbial Unstoppable Force Vs. Immoveable Object
No team scored more points or gained more yards from scrimmage than Baylor, another profitable pick against the spread at 7-4-1 while totals ran 6-5 (O/U). Bryce Petty had another big year with the 11th-best QB rating (155.29), one of just eight collegiate pivots to average at least 300 yards per air.
Art Briles and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi had a pretty good defense as well, especially up front where the Bears held ground attacks to 07 YPG (9th). Baylor was susceptible to the pass at times, leaving it up to Cook to try and exploit that in order to help open holes for Jeremy Langford and his 9-game string of 100+ yard efforts on the ground.
There are some key injuries to speak of on the Michigan State side to monitor, the most important of which is guard Travis Jackson who is questionable with a bum ankle. The biggest concern on the Baylor roster is backup tailback Devin Chafin who missed the Kansas State game with an injured elbow.
My confidence in State's defense being able to frustrate Petty and his pals is the primary reason behind making the Spartans my free College Football pick in this one. I may even add the 'under' to my college football plays before all is said and done.
Free College Football Pick: Michigan State +3 at The Greek
Season: 61-43-1 (+13.70)