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Cotton Bowl Preview and Prediction: Alabama vs. Michigan State

Derrick Henry

Derrick Henry

A heavyweight, physical battle is set to unfold in Arlington, Texas on Dec. 31, as Alabama and Michigan State meet in a playoff semifinal in the Cotton Bowl for a trip to the College Football National Championship. 60 minutes and a victory is all that separates the Spartans and Crimson Tide from a chance at the national title in Glendale, Ariz. on Jan. 11.

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There are a lot of similarities in the path to the Cotton Bowl and the overall style of play between Alabama and Michigan State. The Crimson Tide had to overcome an early loss to Ole Miss in 2015, while the Spartans rebounded from a controversial defeat at Nebraska on Nov. 7 to win the Big Ten title over Iowa on Dec. 5. Both offenses are capable of spreading the field with their passing attack, but the basic approach for Michigan State and Alabama consists of leaning heavily on defense and running the ball. Additionally, there’s also the Nick Saban connection between these two programs. Saban worked as Michigan State’s head coach from 1995-99 and left East Lansing for LSU prior to the Citrus Bowl in 1999.

The disrespect card is used by many teams in bowl season, and there will be a chip on Michigan State’s shoulders on Thursday night. Even though both teams are 12-1 and claimed a title in two of the best conferences this season, Alabama is a double-digit favorite. The Spartans thrived as the underdog this year in a road trip to Ohio State, and coach Mark Dantonio can use the spread and lack of faith in Michigan State by experts as a way to motivate his team.

Alabama and Michigan State have only one previous meeting on the gridiron. The Crimson Tide defeated the Spartans 49-7 in the 2011 Capital One Bowl. These two teams were scheduled to play in 2016 and 2017 during the regular season, but the series was canceled in 2013 by Alabama due to the uncertainty of how many league games the SEC would play in future years.