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Le'Veon Bell faces a tough challenge against TCU's run defense.
The bowl game in Tempe will be a last chance to build any sort of momentum for both Michigan State and TCU into 2013.
The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (formerly the Insight Bowl) puts together two teams that have not won back-to-back games since September. For Michigan State and TCU, the season has not gone entirely as planned.
After 22 wins the last two seasons, Michigan State opened the season in the top 15 despite the departure of veteran quarterback Kirk Cousins. Despite a top-five defense nationally, new starter Andrew Maxwell struggled to fill the shoes of the Spartans’ leader the last two years. A hard-luck team, Michigan State’s five Big Ten losses came by an average of 2.6 points.
In Fort Worth, TCU won its first four games before the departure of quarterback Casey Pachall in early October thrust Trevone Boykin into unexpected starting duty. Though the most notable absence, Pachall’s was only one of a handful of departures -- either through injury or legal issues -- to befall the Horned Frogs in 2012. Despite the turmoil, TCU went 4-5 in its first Big 12 season, including road wins over Baylor, West Virginia and Texas.
As for the coaches, the bowl trend works in Gary Patterson’s favor. Patterson has won six of his last seven bowl games, the lone loss to undefeated Boise State in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl. Meanwhile, Dantonio is 1-4 in bowl games at Michigan State with last year’s Outback Bowl victory over Georgia ending the losing streak.
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl - Michigan State (6-6) vs. TCU (7-5)
Date and time: Dec. 29, 10:15 p.m. Eastern
Location: Tempe, Ariz.
When Michigan State has the ball:
The Spartans offense revolves around running back Le’Veon Bell and a stout offensive line. Bell led the nation in carries with 350, and after a midseason lull, he finished the season strong. Bell rushed for 587 yards and averaged 5.7 yards per carry in three November games. The same hot streak couldn’t be said of the quarterback Maxwell, who completed only 43.1 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and four interceptions in the final month of the regular season. Maxwell and his undistinguished group of receivers will try to crack the TCU defense which includes an elite cover corner and one of the nation’s best freshmen in the pass rush. Jason Verrett intercepted six passes, and freshman end Devonte Fields had nine sacks and a Big 12-leading 17.5 sacks.
When TCU has the ball:
Boykin showed enough flashes to prove he’s the quarterback of the future, but it was clear he was forced into unexpected duty as the starter. He can make plays with his legs, but he completed 57.3 passes with nine interceptions in his eight games as starting quarterback. Josh Boyce can be a game-breaking threat in the receiving game. TCU uses a running back rotation with 5-foot-9, 185-pound B.J. Catalon and 6-1, 227-pound Matthew Tucker. Both will run into a formidable run defense led by All-Big Ten linebacker Max Bullough. The Spartans ranked fourth nationally in total defense and pass efficiency defense and eighth in rush defense. If there’s any crack in the Spartans’ D, it’s in the pass rush. William Ghoston struggled in his junior season, leading the team with merely 3.5 sacks. The secondary will also be without the services of top cornerback Johnny Adams, as the senior is dealing with an injured toe and will be replaced by Mitchell White.
Expect a defensive chess match. Patterson and Dantonio are among the best defensive coaches in the country. Despite shortcomings on offense for both teams, the defenses held for most of the season. Oddly enough, the two teams went a combined 4-9 overall at home and 1-7 in home conference games. Perhaps a change of venue will do both teams good, but the potential of Boykin, who never had a chance to fully prepare to become the starter, may give the Horned Frogs an edge in the bowl game.
Prediction: TCU 21, Michigan State 17
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