As New Year’s Eve draws nearer, excitement spreads across the college football world while fans anticipate the second annual College Football Playoffs. Experts are constantly bickering over whether the Clemson Tigers or Oklahoma Sooners will reach the National Championship in Phoenix, but analysts and columnists alike are in an agreement that the Michigan State Spartans have little chance of defeating Alabama in the Cotton Bowl. The Tide are projected to win by a margin of 9.5 points— the third largest spread of any bowl game this season. Fans are already penciling Alabama into the National Title Game, but it is a good thing that pencils have erasers–they will need one.
A number of predictions have been made for the Cotton Bowl, but almost every one contains an Alabama victory. Such a unanimous decision, however, makes little sense. There is evidence that the Spartans have a very good chance to defeat the Crimson Tide by simply studying what each team has done this past season. The Spartans are projected to lose by two possessions, but this is an unfair prediction. Six of Alabama’s nine conference games have been decided by two possessions or less. Some may argue that Alabama, being from the Southeastern Conference (SEC), has faced a more difficult schedule than almost any other team, but their three most impressive wins have come against No. 19 Florida, No. 20 LSU, and No. 23 Tennessee. Many unranked teams that are far inferior to the Spartans have stayed with the Crimson Tide and lost by a similar margin MSU is projected to lose by. Michigan State has reached victories over No. 5 Iowa, No. 7 Ohio State, No. 14 Michigan, and No. 15 Oregon. Why are so-called “experts” predicting MSU to do no better than unranked teams? This is a classic example of SEC bias as well as an underestimation of the power of Michigan State.
Alabama is a run-first team. Heisman winning running back Derrick Henry leads the nation in rushing yards, while the Tide as a team rank outside the top 50 in passing yards. Many believe that Henry will run for miles against the Spartans, but most “experts” ignore the fact that MSU has one of the best rush defenses in the country. Led by All-American defensive end Shilique Calhoun and supported by the stellar linebacking core of Jon Reschke, Riley Bullough, and Darien Harris, the Spartans are a nightmare for opposing running backs. They held the former Heisman frontrunner, Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott, to 33 yards. In the Big Ten Championship Game, Michigan State stuffed the run-heavy Iowa Hawkeyes to 52 yards. Give Derrick Henry and Alabama credit–they arguably run the ball better than any team in the NCAA. Henry has also received the support a championship-caliber offensive line, but with that said, most fans do not realize that if there is one thing Michigan State knows how to do, it is how to stop the run. Moving the ball will be a very difficult task for the Crimson Tide, yet they are predicted to dispose of the Spartans by nearly double digits.
The Spartans are not the only team in the Cotton Bowl with a forceful defense. Opposing backs face nothing short of a brick wall against the defensive front of Alabama. LSU’s Leonard Fournette, who was once considered a sure-fire bet for the Heisman, barely broke 30 yards in their loss to the Crimson Tide. Dak Prescott, arguably the best quarterback in the SEC, was sacked nine times, failing to score a single touchdown against the stifling defensive line of Alabama. The health of MSU quarterback Connor Cook will play a large role in MSU’s offensive success, but it appears likely that like Alabama, Michigan State will struggle to find the endzone. The Cotton Bowl will likely be a defensive struggle, but this is what Michigan State wants. The Spartans are used to defensive battles; they defeated Michigan, Ohio State, and Iowa in this way. MSU head coach Mark Dantonio knows how to prepare his team to play well under pressure. It is possible that the Spartans will only score a single touchdown against the Crimson Tide, but if this is the case, it just may be a game-winning drive in the final minutes of play.
There are many reasons to believe that Michigan State will beat Alabama come New Year’s Eve, and the 9.5 point spread is an insult to Mark Dantonio and his Spartans. If this is true, why are most football fans in an agreement that Alabama will defeat the Spartans? It is because of the bias of the media. Journalists constantly cover traditionally good football teams such as Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame, and others. They glorify these teams and treat them as the best of the best in all of college football. Teams with less of a football tradition, such as Michigan State, are not treated with the same respect by the media. No matter what Alabama does, they are in the college football spotlight, leaving Michigan State in the darkness. Professional football analysts and columnists should block this bias when predicting games, but they often fail.
While negative literature against Michigan State may appear to be a problem, it is not. This is what Mark Dantonio yearns for. On the inside, he probably enjoys it when both ESPN and Sports Illustrated Magazine, two of the biggest sports mediums in the world, mispronounce his name. It creates an everlasting chip on MSU’s shoulder. Michigan State could win the national championship, and the media would probably cover it for about a day before giving way for some Jim Harbaugh-themed story, but this is okay. It adds more fuel to a roaring fire in East Lansing that will never die.
There is no situation where Michigan State would rather be in.