Cotton Bowl Picks: Alabama Looks Dominant, But Take Michigan State's Tempting Odds

Ted Sevransky

Thursday, December 17, 2015 7:40 PM GMT

Cherry-picking my top college football picks, I found one of the most interesting bowls of this season, when all eyes will be set on #3 Michigan State vs. #2 Alabama. 

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College Football Pick: Michigan State +9.5
Best Line Offered: at 5Dimes

 

Michigan State vs. Alabama
Michigan State is going bowling for the ninth consecutive season – John L Smith was in his final season as the head coach the last time they failed to reach the postseason. And Michigan State has fared extremely well in recent years, notching four straight wins and covers since that blowout loss to Alabama in 2010. 

It’s surely worth noting that Michigan State was the underdog on the college football odds in all four of those recent bowl wins, notching outright upsets against Georgia, TCU, Stanford and Baylor. Last year’s win over the Bears was particularly satisfying for Spartan backers, as Michigan State rallied from 20 points down in the fourth quarter, scoring the game winning TD with only 17 ticks remaining on the clock.

It won’t be so easy for Michigan State to rally from a three score deficit this year if they fall behind by margin. QB Connor Cook has been battling a sore throwing shoulder since November. The Spartans scored 30+ seven times in their first nine games, but they were held to 24 or less three times in their last four games, in part due to Connor’s ineffectiveness and in part due to their offensive struggles when stepping up in class against better defenses.

When we examine Michigan State’s ability to step up in class, there are two sides to the coin. The Spartans failed to cover in a three point win against Oregon, and they got to face the Ducks when QB Vernon Adams was banged up and making his first road start. The Spartans didn’t lead for a single second of regulation in wins against Michigan and Ohio State, rallying from behind to win on the final play in both contests.  Against Iowa, the Spartans led for less than 30 seconds of gametime thanks to yet another rally from behind. No, Michigan State didn’t get blown out in any of those games, but they basically won four coin flips in games that they did not control.

Alabama’s defense is as good or better than anything the Spartans have seen this year. At times in recent seasons, the Crimson Tide have struggled to defend uptempo, spread attacks, but Michigan State’s offense is the antithesis of that; utilizing a slower paced, ball control philosophy. The Crimson Tide held 11 of their 13 opponents to 17 points or less and the only two who broke that 17 point barrier (Ole Miss and Texas A&M) ran uptempo, spread offenses.

But Alabama’s offense has been hit or miss for much of the season, and the Spartans defense is no joke. RB Derrick Henry won the Heisman, but he wasn’t unstoppable. Arkansas shut him down. Florida contained him as well. And with 46 and 44 carries in his last two games, Saban has clearly overworked his top offensive weapon. QB Jake Coker has avoided mistakes, throwing only four interceptions since the end of September, but he lacks explosive weapons and the Crimson Tide cannot be expected to put up points in bunches if they’re not dominating on the ground.

Few teams have stepped up in class as well as Michigan State in the Mark D’Antonio era. The Spartans were underdogs twice this year, winning both of those games in outright fashion. Those wins improved D’Antonio’s mark to 12-1 ATS as an underdog in the last 13 tries, including nine outright upsets during that span. It’s worth noting that their lone non-cover (last year at Oregon), the Spartans led outright in the second half as two TD underdogs before things unraveled. Take the points with Michigan State as the college football pick.