In one quick year, the No. 3 Michigan State Spartans find themselves in Dallas once again to play for the Cotton Bowl. This time, however, the stakes are much higher. With a win over the second–ranked Alabama Crimson Tide, the Spartans will be headed to Arizona to play the winner of the Orange Bowl – top-ranked Clemson or the No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners.
That is easier said than done however.
After the week three loss to the Ole Miss Rebels, it seemed the Crimson Tide lost all hope. However why would anyone count out the Tide in Week 3? Somehow Alabama is always in the hunt for a title, so it would have seemed foolish to bet against the Crimson Tide.
Sure enough, with a dramatic finish in the Arkansas-Ole Miss game, the Razorbacks knocked off Ole Miss and Alabama reclaimed control of the SEC West.
“It’s going to be a very physical game,” MSU center Jack Allen said. “They are a top program. They’re offered this position almost every year. And we’re excited to see how we match up against them.”
The Crimson Tide has been arguably the greatest team in college football this past decade. Winning three national championships in four years, head coach Nick Saban turned a program, which seemed to be lost in the dark, into the national powerhouse it once was.
Since becoming the head coach at Alabama, Saban is 103-18, with five wins vacated by the NCAA in 2007 putting his total mark at 98-18.
In 2009, Saban produced Alabama’s first national title in 17 years with a victory over quarterback Colt McCoy and the Texas Longhorns in the Citi BCS National Championship Game. Yet, it was the monumental win over golden boy Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators in the SEC Championship Game that took the cake that season.
Saban guided Alabama back to the Allstate BCS National Championship Game in 2011, giving the Tide two championships in three years after defeating the LSU Tigers. Alabama kicked five field goals and Heisman finalist, Trent Richardson, scampered for the only touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter.
Of course, in a swift display of irony, the PAT after Richardson’s lone touchdown was missed giving Alabama a 21-0 shut out victory over LSU.
Alabama gained redemption from earlier that year in “The Game of the Century,” which the Tigers proved to be victorious in a defensive battle, 9-6 in OT.
The following season, the Tide once again played for the National Title in the Discover BCS National Championship Game, except it was the undefeated Notre Dame Fighting Irish who stood in their way.
Saban and company rolled through the Irish 42-14, proving the Tide were a dynasty in college football.
Granted, Alabama does not have the same luster this year as opposed to their national title runs, yet it is clear how dominant they are.
“Alabama has an outstanding football team; I think we all understand that,” Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said. “Defensively they are first in their conference and ranked one, two or three in a variety of different situations and categories.”
The run defense for Alabama ranks No. 1 amongst FBS Division-I schools. The Tide has surrendered 962 yards on the ground and six touchdowns all season. On average, rushers only gain a smidge above two yards per carry when carrying the ball against the Crimson Tide.
“You see the size, you see the speed and you rarely see them get beat,” MSU quarterback Connor Cook said. “They’re dominating up front, pushing guys around, and making plays in the backfield.”
After losing the heartbreaker in Tuscaloosa to Ole Miss, Alabama took out its frustration by dominating the No. 8 Georgia Bulldogs 38-10 two weeks later.
Yet, the victory over the Bulldogs in their own backyard was not the best performance for the Tide in the 2015 campaign.
With the nation buzzing about LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Alabama went into the pivotal matchup with a chip on their shoulder — a chip most Spartans are accustoming to.
Holding Fournette to only 31 yards on the day, Alabama’s defense silenced critics and showcased how talented they were despite the lack of superstar names.
One superstar, however, shined in that game and the entirety of the season.
Alabama’s running back, Derrick Henry, seemed to take the lack of respect and over hype on Fournette personally, since the running back trampled over the LSU defense for 210 yards on 38 carries and three scores.
The coming out party for Henry catapulted him into the top spot for the Heisman Trophy, and he never looked back.
“He’ll be an outstanding opponent and will be a challenge for us to stop,” Dantonio said.
Michigan State will try and stop Derrick Henry and the Crimson Tide on New Year’s Eve in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m.