(8) Michigan State Spartans vs. (5) Baylor Bears
This year’s Cotton Bowl is arguably the best bowl game that is not a national semifinal. Tomorrow, the No. 8 Michigan State Spartans will take on the No. 5 Baylor Bears at AT&T Stadium in Arlington (12:20 p.m. Eastern).
Baylor had an incredible season, posting an 11-1 record and capturing the Big 12 title. Yet, their impressive resume – which featured wins over No. 6 TCU and No. 11 Kansas State – couldn’t earn the team a spot in the inaugural playoffs.
The 38-27 win over the Wildcats came in Baylor’s last game of the regular season. The win (both straight-up and ATS) moved the Bears ahead of rival TCU in the CFP rankings, but it wasn’t enough to leapfrog Ohio State (who demolished Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game).
A dominant victory by the Bears tomorrow would likely show the committee that it made a mistake taking a Big Ten team (Ohio State) over a Big 12 team; however, Baylor head coach Art Briles has come to terms with his squad’s position.
“I think everything worked out for us the way it’s supposed to. And I have peace in that,” said Briles. “We’re supposed to be where we’re supposed to be, and we’re facing a great team and a very well-coached team. It is a great challenge for us.”
The Michigan State Spartans were a playoff contender for a while, but ended up with two losses on their resume – one too many to be seriously considered. That said, the Spartans only two setbacks this year came against Oregon and Ohio State, two teams that actually did make the top four.
For 30 minutes, the Spartans played a tremendous road game against the Ducks, taking a 24-18 lead into halftime. Unfortunately for the Spartans, the Ducks came to life in the second half, outscoring Michigan State 28-3. Nonetheless, that experience will be valuable come New Year’s Day when the Spartans face a Baylor team with a similar, fast-paced offense.
“Defending Baylor really is about getting lined up and playing fast,” Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said. “That’s a tremendous challenge in itself, because they are probably the fastest, or what is on record as the fastest, team between snaps in the country.”
Stopping, or at least slowing, the Baylor offense really equates to containing quarterback Bryce Petty. The 6’3″ senior threw for over 3,300 yards on the year, and had 26 touchdowns to just six interceptions. Petty led the Bears to over 340 passing yards per game, fifth in the nation.
Slowing Petty will be a huge challenge, though. Not only does he have three receivers with over 700 yards, he also has big game experience, putting up over 350 yards passing in last year’s Fiesta Bowl (though Baylor lost a 52-42 shootout).
Baylor and its mighty offense come into the game as 2.5-point favorites (and the over/under is at 69.5).
(Photo credit: John Martinez Pavliga (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/]. Photo has been cropped.)