Capital One Bowl – Alabama vs. Michigan State

Written December 31st, 2010 by Eric

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The next installment in our rapidly increasing number of bowl previews is the…

Alabama (9-3, 5-3 SEC) vs. Michigan State (11-1, 7-1 Big Ten)

January 1, 2011 7:30 PM ET ESPN

Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Florida


The picturesque Citrus Bowl

Originally called the Tangerine Bowl when it was established in 1947, the Capital One Bowl has the strongest history of all of the non BCS bowls.  In 1983, the Tangerine Bowl switched it’s name to that of the stadium where the game is played – the Florida Citrus Bowl.  In 2001, Capital One became the title sponsor, taking over naming rights in 2003.

The first 27 years of the game featured teams from conferences that are today division 1-AA.  In fact, in 1972, the Kent State Golden Flashes lost by 3 points to Tampa.  Other great games in history include Juniata vs. Missouri Valley (January 1956), Morris Harvey vs. Emory & Henry (January ’51), and the very first game between Catawba and Maryville (January ’47).

As you might expect for bowl tie-ins, for the first 20 years the game featured the Ohio Valley Conference champion facing off against an at large opponant.  In 1968 the OVC was replaced with the MAC champion, and the MAC was faced off against the Southern Conference.  The SEC filled in for the SoCon from 1972-1973 followed by an at-large opponant.  Finally, from 1975 to 1987, the game matched two at large teams from major conferences, generally preferring to choose one of those teams from the south.  In 1987 the ACC Champion picked up the Bowl tie in to face off against an at-large opponant.  That stood until 1992 when two of the top teams in the Big Ten and SEC were set to clash.  That setup has survived to this day.

Ohio State has played this bowl game on four different occasions.  Their first visit saw them matched up against the BYU Cougars which resulted in a 10-7 Buckeye win.  The Buckeyes also accepted the first Big Ten tie in spot in the Citrus Bowl, which saw them fall to Georgia 21-14.  OSU also played in the 1995 and 1996 seasons, resulting in losses to Alabama (24-17) and Tennessee (20-14).

As a conference, the Big Ten has recently owned this game.  Since the switch to the Big Ten/SEC matchup, the two conferences have evenly split the 18 games.  However, in the BCS era (since the 1998 season) the Big Ten is 8-4.  This is particularly surprising considering the SEC’s recent “dominance” in college football.  In fact, since the SEC has been winning National Titles (2006), the Big Ten is 3-1 in this game.

Draw your own conclusions.

Alabama Crimson Tide

If anyone can explain what "Crimson Tide" has to do with "Elephants", without bringing up politics, wins a prize

Compared to the expectations coming into this season, the Crimson Tide has a very disappointing year.  Believing they were destined for another shot at the Mythical National Title, things started moving in the right direction as the Tide rolled over then #18 Penn State (24-3), then #10 Arkansas (24-20) and then #7 Florida (31-6).  However, South Carolina ended those dreams in a crushing 35-21 defeat that wasn’t even as close as the score indicated.  For a time in that game, toUSC quarterback Stephen Garcia had completed 9-9 passes for 2 touchdowns.

A three point loss to #10 LSU a couple weeks later did not help matters, particularly with how pathetic Les Miles is as a head coach.  The first sign of a possible turnaround was in a hard fought battle with #2 Auburn in the Iron Bowl.  The underdog Tide cruised to a 24 point lead over the Auburn Tigers.  Unfortunately, things fell apart, resulting in a one point loss.

Mark Ingram

Alabama’s players almost don’t need introduction after they were plastered all over the College Football news organizations at the end of last year.  The biggest name, of course, is junior runningback Mark Ingram (5-10, 215).  Ingram was last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, and probably for good reason with his 1658 yards and 17 touchdowns with a 6.1 yard per carry average.  It’s not surprising, however, that he didn’t repeat as winner this year, notching only 816 yards on 146 carries and 11 touchdowns.  Still impressive numbers, but not enough to be viewed favorably by the voters.

A lot of the issue came from having to compete with his teammate sophomore Trent Richardson (5-11, 220) for carries.  Richardson is an amazingly dangerous back, picking up 6.5 yards per carry this year and 5 touchdowns on only 102 attempts.  Richardson is a fantastic change of pace back and gives opposing teams fits whenever he’s in the backfield.

Alabama’s senior quarterback Greg McElroy (6-3, 225) proved just how good of a player he’s going to be.  With 296 attempts, McElroy picked up 209 completions for 2767 yards, 19 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions.  Those stats work out to a 166.94 quarterback rating – good enough to be the #6 rated quarterback in the country.  Comparitively, T. Pryor was #13 with a 158 rating for the year.

In the receiving game, Alabama features a player that you’ve almost certainly heard of – junior Julio Jones (6-4, 220).  Jones is a spectacular athlete who is by far and away McElroy’s favorite target this season.  His 75 receptions lead the team by far and away – the next highest has only 34.  Jones has picked up 1084 yards and 7 touchdowns on the season, including a 68 yard touchdown strike.  He’s not the only dangerous receiver, with 6 total receivers picking up more than 20 catches this year, and 5 of them sporting touchdown receptions of 48 yards or more.  Alabama will challenge Michigan State’s secondary, no question.

Michigan State Spartans

Keepin' it simple.

The Spartans had a far better season than expect coming into the year.  In discussions here at MSU, several of my friends predicted that MSU was going to end somewhere around 4th to 6th place in the Big Ten race.  MSU instead tied for 1st, just missing out on going to a BCS bowl due to a number of factors.  The biggest might have been having not played the Buckeyes, which worked in OSU’s favor for the first time in years.

Ultimately, what may have cost Michigan State the most was the disaster they suffered at the hands of Iowa.  Nine games into the regular season, the undefeated Spartans traveled to Iowa to play the Hawkeyes.  Iowa sent them packing, beating them 37-6.  This became particularly painful when Iowa fell to a 7-5 record in the regular season.  As Michigan State’s only loss, it was like a millstone around their necks.  Ohio State secured the BCS bowl invitation leaving MSU in the Capital One Bowl for the second time in three years.

Edwin Baker

Michigan State presents an offense that could be the match for Alabama’s.  The key cog for the team is sophomore running back Edwin Baker (5-9, 208).  Baker has rushed 195 times for 1,187 yards and 13 touchdowns.  His running is good enough for a 6.1 yard per carry average, making him one of the best running backs in the nation.  His worst day this season came, not surprisingly, against Iowa as he carried for a pathetic 2.3 yards per carry.  Therefore, it is possible to stop Baker – however, that is not the only thing you have to do to eliminate this MSU offense.  Illinois similarly stopped Baker, but lost 26-6.

The other componant that makes this team go is junior quarterback Kirk Cousins (6-3, 202).  Cousins shared quarterbacking duties last year with Keith Nichol, but managed to win out the starting position this season.  That decision turned out to be a good one as Cousins delivered 216 completions for 2705 yards 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.  Unfortunately, 3 of those picks came against Iowa in Cousins worst statistical game of his career.  Stopping Cousins is the second big part of taking care of MSU’s offense.

Cousins does not limit his throwing to one key player, but the best receiver on the team is arguably Senior wideout Mark Dell (6-2, 199).  Dell has picked up 761 yards and 6 touchdowns with a 15.5 yard per catch average.  Having a player as dangerous as Dell is a big advantage to the MSU passing game, particularly when the defense has to prepare for 9 possible different receivers.

Who Are We Picking?

  • Eric- Michigan State
  • Jay- Alabama
  • Jeff- Alabama
  • Jim- Alabama
  • Joe- Alabama
  • Mali- Alabama

There is no question that you will not want to miss this game.  This will be a fantastic measuring stick for the Big Ten and the SEC going into the Big Ten bowl games.  Also, I strongly believe Michigan State is the stronger of the two teams – though clearly I’m the only one here at the Buckeye Battle Cry.

That said, even if I think Michigan State is the stronger team doesn’t mean that MSU will run away with this.  Alabama will be ready to go in this one and will give Michigan State a fight the whole way through.


  1. ArrowJNo Gravatar
    January 1st, 2011 at 10:21 pm

    5 out 6 picked the right team. I am amazed it wasn’t 6-6. Alabama is the most explosive team this year on offense and defense. The Tide had injuries all season and today all but one (Mark Baron) was healthy finally. Next year most of the college football world will be happy they do not play Alabama. Most dominating performace in many years. Alabama beat an 11-1 Big10 Co-Champion team like a lower tier team. Congrats to Alabama on a fine win.


    ArrowJNo Gravatar
    January 1st, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    OBTW Alabama’s defense held the Michigan St. running game to minus -48 yards.


    ArrowJNo Gravatar
    January 1st, 2011 at 10:29 pm

    Ohio St. should be worried with Arkansas. Mississippi St. has been a bottom feeder for years and now will contined for wins in the SEC West. So will Arkansas. The SEC West is light years ahead of the SEC East and that will not change for several years. THE National Title will stay with the SEC until the BIG10 gets rid of Jim Delany who is just a huge joke of a Commissioner. Arkansas will play with OSU all night and could win the game. Currently the SEC is 3-0 vs the Big10. The Big10 is 0-5 in bowl games.


    MaliBuckeyeNo Gravatar
    January 2nd, 2011 at 12:15 am

    Actually, the conference is 2-5 overall, although you’re correct that they’re 0-5 in 2011. The SEC is 3-3, after ending 2010 0-3.

    Agreed that the West is much stronger now, and that Arkansas will be quite a game. It’s interesting how things cycle- it wasn’t long ago that Florida/Tennessee/Georgia were the powers of the conference.

    Well, Delany doesn’t coach or recruit or game plan… his role is mostly administrative. But, he does work for the best for the conference, including equity between teams by ensuring that they don’t offer or sign more student athletes than they have available scholarships for.


    MaliBuckeyeNo Gravatar
    January 2nd, 2011 at 12:07 am

    That’s called “Sparty being Sparty” where we come from.


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