2011 Capital One Bowl - Michigan St vs. Bama
MSU LB Greg Jones & Bama RB Mark Ingram
MSU LB Greg Jones & Bama RB Mark Ingram
Posted Dec 30, 2010

2010-2011 Bowls - CFN's Preview & Prediction for the 2011 Capital One Bowl - Michigan State vs. Alabama

2011 Capital One Bowl

Michigan St
(11-1) vs. Alabama (9-3)

Saturday, January 1st, 1:00, ABC  

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By Richard Cirminiello

This might as well be an extra BCS game since the two teams that play in it every year from the SEC and Big Ten probably deserve to be in more than at least two of the teams that get the BCS nod.

The Capital One Bowl, or the Citrus Bowl to the old school types, has been a Big Ten/SEC showdown since 1993, and for those who assume there's an SEC dominance between the two, and that there's some sort of speed and athleticism barrier, the count since the two mega-conferences started playing on an annual basis is a dead-even 9-9.

Statistics In Yards
4,880 Total
4,053 Total
31.3 Scoring
20.1 Scoring
2,026 Rushing
1,463 Rushing
2,854 Passing
2,590 Passing
0.50 Turnover Margin 0.83
Position Rankings
5 Highest - 1 Lowest
S   A
4 QBs 4
4 RBs 5
3.5 WRs 5
3.5 O Line 3.5
3.5 D Line 4
5 LBs 4
3.5 DBs 3.5
4 STs 4
4.5 Coach 5
CFN 2010 2011 CFN Bowl Previews & Confidence Picks
- New Mexico - BYU vs. UTEP
- Human. - Fresno St vs. NIU
- New Orleans - Troy vs. Ohio
- St. Pete - UL vs. So Miss
- Las Vegas - Utah vs. Boise St
- Poinsettia - SDSU vs. Navy
- Hawaii - Tulsa vs. Hawaii
- Little Caesars - Toledo vs. FIU
- Ind. - Air Force vs. GT
- Champs - NC St vs. WVU
- Insight - Iowa vs. Mizz
- Military - Mary. vs. ECU
- Texas - Illinois vs. Baylor
- Alamo - Ok St vs. Arizona
- Armed Forces - SMU vs. Army
- Pinstripe - SU vs. KSU
- Music City - UNC vs. Tenn
- Holiday - Neb vs. Wash
- Meineke - USF vs. Clemson
- Sun - Miami vs. ND
- Liberty - UCF vs. Georgia
- Chick-fil-A - FSU vs. USC
- TicketCity - NW vs. TT
- Outback - PSU vs. Florida
- Capital One - MSU vs. Bama
- Gator - Mich vs. Miss St
- GoDaddy - MU vs. MT
- Cotton - A&M vs. LSU
- Compass - Pitt vs. UK
- Kraft - BC vs. Nevada
- Rose - UW vs. TCU
- Fiesta - OU vs. UConn
- Orange - Stan. vs. VT
- Sugar - Ark. vs. OSU
- BCS Champ. - Aub. vs. Oregon
No, the SEC isn't faster than the Big Ten, and no, the Big Ten isn't tougher and more bruising than the SEC. The SEC might own the BCS Championship, but the Big Ten has taken over the Capital One winning five of the last six. The lone loser? Michigan State in a 24-12 clunker against Georgia in the 2009 game. But this is a different Spartan team that's strong enough to make a statement for the conference and its program. This is the chance for Michigan State to get some of the respect given to Ohio State and Wisconsin, who were handed the BCS nods even though Mark Dantonio's squad probably deserved one of the spots.

Michigan State gets the honor of being the best team not to be in the BCS -- okay, maybe Boise State is better, but MSU would be No. 1A on the list – winning a share of the Big Ten title and beating Wisconsin. Considering Ohio State lost the head-to-head tie-breaker with the Badgers, and the Badgers lost the head-to-head tie-breaker with the Spartans, and MSU and OSU didn't play, Michigan State and Wisconsin were the two most deserving Big Ten BCS teams. But if Sparty feels disrespected in any way, this is the chance to show why.

The Ohio State – Arkansas Sugar Bowl won't be without its charm, and it'll certainly be a major showdown, but considering Alabama is the defending national champion, and considering it beat the Hogs, Michigan State winning this game would cause more of a national stir than Ohio State will if it wins in New Orleans. This is the coming out party in the program's most important game since beating USC in the 1988 Rose Bowl, and for a team that's still rising and has many of its top players returning, this could be a major stepping-stone. The 11-1 season is already the best in school history, and a 12th win and a victory over the Tide would easily make for the best year since winning the 1966 national title.

This could also be a major moment for Alabama, too. While going 9-3 with a collapse in the Iron Bowl loss to Auburn isn't what the team had in mind after coming into the season raked preseason No. 1, the nine wins have made 2007 to 2009 the winnngest three-yard span in the program's illustrious history. A third straight ten-win season would be special, and it would be big for a young defense that should be breathing fire and brimstone with most of the key parts back next year.

The offense is a different story. QB Greg McElroy will graduate, and barring a shocking turn of events, 2009 Heisman winner Mark Ingram and star receiver Julio Jones will be long gone to the next level. Even so, Alabama is loaded up with studs waiting to shine, but this game is about flexing some muscle and showing that the preseason hype wasn't completely off.

When it comes to schedules, few played a better résumé, than the Tide, who beat the two Outback Bowl combatants, Penn State and Florida, had the strongest road win this year (based on currently ranked BCS teams) in the victory over the Sugar Bowl's Arkansas, and lost to the Cotton Bowl's LSU and the BCS Championship's Auburn. However, beating up on Mississippi State doesn't bring a whole lot of whoops and hollers, and beating Penn State and Florida this year isn't that big a deal. After the way the team closed out the regular season against Auburn, a bowl loss would be a disastrous end to the season.

Having lost four straight bowl games going back to the 2001 Silicon Valley Bowl, and with a 2-8 bowl record since a 1990 Sun Bowl win over USC, Michigan State needs to prove that it can win the big one on the big stage. Alabama won in the biggest game of them all last season, but it's following a strange pattern of alternating wins and losses over the last several years. Since the loss to Michigan in the classic 1999 Orange Bowl, Bama beat Iowa State in the 2001 Independence, and then lost the 2004 Music City Bowl to Minnesota. It won the 2005 Cotton over Texas Tech, but lost the 2006 Independence. After a 30-24 win over Colorado in the 2007 Independence, the Tide clunked in the 2009 Sugar against Utah. After winning the BCS Championship against Texas … could the pattern repeat itself?

Eight of the last 11 Capital One Bowls have been decided by a touchdown or less, and this one should be tight enough to be another great one. The two teams are loaded with talent, the two coaching staffs know each other with Mark Dantonio an assistant when Nick Saban was at Michigan State, and two teams should be well motivated. Now it's time to break the Big Ten – SEC, Capital One Bowl tie.

Players to Watch: What the heck happened to Mark Ingram? While he might not have been an all-timer of a Heisman winner in 2009, he came through time and again in big game after big game while helping to carry Alabama to the national title? While he's still considered the top pro running back prospect in college football, or at the very least in the top three, he fell off the radar this year running for fewer than half as many yards as he ran for in 2009. While he missed the first two games hurt, he ran for 100 yards just twice this year with 151 against Duke and 157 against Arkansas; those happened to be his first two games back from injury. He scored 11 times and was good when he had the ball, but he only carried it more than 20 times against Arkansas and against LSU, and he didn't display his normal blend of speed and power that made him so unstoppable last year. Blame it on the offensive line, and blame it on not being quite right all year thanks to his knee. However, if this is his last game in a Tide uniform, he's going to get fed the ball.

What the heck happened to Greg Jones? The best linebacker in America in 2009 – yes, Tide fans, Jones had a better year than Rolando McClain – making 154 tackles as a do-it-all playmaker who was all over the field for the Spartans. Actually, nothing really happened to him this year with 98 stops and he had a terrific year. However, he wasn't the same disruptive force, he missed a few too many tackles, and running mate Eric Gordon came up with a big year of his own. Against Alabama, though, this should be when Jones shines. A premier run stopper who's always around the ball, he should meet up with Ingram early and often.

Matchup-wise, along with Jones and Gordon vs. Ingram and Trent Richardson, the battle between Julio Jones and Chris Rucker should be worth paying attention to. The 6-2, 195-pound Rucker has good size and is great at getting physical, but he wasn't a top ball-hawker with just two picks on the year. However, he's fluid and has the skills to beat up Jones, however, Rucker can't let No. 8 get loose. Jones fought through some bangs and bruises to come up with a fantastic year catching 75 passes for 1,084 yards and seven touchdowns, highlighted by a ten-grab, 199-yard, one score day against Auburn, and if he's rolling, the rest of the offense will, too. MSU would hate to have to commit the safeties to pay attention to Jones on a regular basis, and getting a shutdown game from Rucker could turn out to be the key to the game.

Alabama will win if ... Michigan State has a slew of third and long situations. Of course, no team is in good shape if it has to keep going for big plays to move the chains, but third downs have been a particular problem for the Spartans, who have only converted on 37.5% of their chances. Oddly enough, the best job MSU did this year on third downs was against Wisconsin, converting 9-of-18 chances, but there were problems against Iowa in the loss converting just 4- of-14 chances. Alabama is a rock when it gets to pin its ears back on third downs, and if MSU QB Kirk Cousins has to make big plays through the air, forget it.

Offensively, the line has to come up with one of its better games. A disappointment this year, the line was decent, but inconsistent as it failed to consistently crank out a decent ground game and didn't open up enough holes for the NFL backs it was blocking for. Pass protection was sketchy, and while QB Greg McElroy is tough and held on to the ball a bit too confidently at times, and while MSU doesn't have a dangerous pass rush, defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi has had a month to come up with something quirky and the Tide has to be prepared. If the Bama O line can hold its own and give McElroy time, the offense should be able to move without too many problems.

Michigan State will win if ... QB Kirk Cousins can pick on the Alabama secondary. The talent is undeniable, but even at this point in the year the secondary is still young, and not having Mark Barron, who'll be out with a torn pectoral muscle, won't help. No, Cousins won't be able to fire at will on a defense that's great on third downs, but it has had problems against some of the better quarterbacks, giving up 357 yards to Ryan Mallett of Arkansas, allowing South Carolina's Stephen Garcia to complete 17-of-20 throws, and fiving up 216 yards and three scores against Auburn. Cousins forces his throws too much and he might try to make things happen that aren't there, but if he can sniff out the single coverages and if he can get comfortable, he'll have a big game. Considering Alabama doesn't have a special pass rush, Cousins should put up nice numbers.

The biggest key for MSU is to play with the proverbial chip on its shoulder. While the players are saying all the right things about being happy to be in the Capital One, this is a BCS-worthy team that has the talent and the potential to win this game without it being a major upset. This is an 11-1 team that beat Wisconsin, has an effective, balanced offense, and can use the "no one believes in us" cliché. The Spartans are supposed to lose to the big, bad, SEC team, and the pressure is off. The team can come out firing.

What will happen: Alabama is going to be shocked by how physical the Spartans are going to be. No, this isn't the stereotype of the Big Ten using its power over the speedy SEC, but the defensive front is stout and won't be shoved around by this Bama offensive front. The MSU offensive line should be able to get the three-headed monster of Edwin Baker, Le'Veon bell, and Larry Caper going as long as Cousins is at least average. Alabama will pull off the win because the main players on offense will play like it's their final college game, but it's going to be a dogfight down to the finish.

CFN Prediction: Alabama 31 … Michigan State 27 ... Line: Alabama -10
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Capital One Bowl History
2010 Penn State 19, LSU 17
2009 Georgia 24, Michigan State 12
2008 Michigan 41, Florida 35
2007 Penn State 20, Tennessee 10
2006 Wisconsin 24, Auburn 10
2005 Iowa 30, LSU 25
2004 Georgia 34, Purdue 27 (OT)
2003 Auburn 13, Penn State 9
2002 Tennessee 45, Michigan 17
2001 Michigan 31, Auburn 28
2000 Michigan St 37, Florida 34
1999 Michigan 45, Arkansas 31
1998 Florida 21, Penn State 6
1997 Tennessee 48, Northwestern 28
1996 Tennessee 20, Ohio State 14
1995 Alabama 24, Ohio State 17
1994 Penn St 31, Tennessee 13
1993 Georgia 21, Ohio State 14
1992 California 37, Clemson 13
1991 Georgia Tech 45, Nebraska 21
1990 Illinois 31, Virginia 21
1989 Clemson 13, Oklahoma 6
1988 Clemson 35, Penn State 10
1987 Auburn 16, USC 7
1985 Ohio State 10, BYU 7
1984 Florida State 17, Georgia 17
1983 Tennessee 30, Maryland 23
1982 Auburn 33, Boston College 26
1981 Missouri 19, So Mississippi 17
1980 Florida 35, Maryland 20
1979 LSU 34, Wake Forest 10
1978 NC State 30, Pittsburgh 17
1977 Florida St 40, Texas Tech 17
1976 Oklahoma State 49, BYU 21
1975 Miami-Ohio 20, So Carolina 7
1974 Miami-Ohio 21, Georgia 10
1973 Miami-Ohio 16, Florida 7
1972 Tampa 21, Kent State 18
1971 Toledo 28, Richmond 3
1970 Toledo 40, William & Mary 12
1969 Toledo 56, Davidson 33
1968 Richmond 49, Ohio 42
1967 UT Martin 25, West Chester 8
1966 Morgan St 14, West Chester 6
1965 East Carolina 31, Maine 0
1964 East Carolina 14, Massachusetts 13
1963 Western Kentucky 27, Coast Guard 0
1962 Houston 49, Miami-Ohio 21
1961 Lamar 21, Middle Tenn. St 14
1960 Middle Tenn. St 21, Presbyterian 12
1958 (Dec.) East Texas State 26, Missouri Valley 7
1958 (Jan.) East Texas State 10, Southern Mississippi 9
1957 West Texas A&M 20, Southern Mississippi 13
1956 Juniata 6, Missouri Valley 6
1955 Nebraska-Omaha 7, Eastern Kentucky 6
1954 Arkansas State 7, East Texas State 7
1953 East Texas State 33, Tennessee Tech 0
1952 Stetson 35, Arkansas State 20
1951 Morris Harvey 35, Emory & Henry 14
1950 Saint Vincent 7, Emory & Henry 6
1949 Murray State 21, Sul Ross 21
1948 Catawba 7, Marshall 0
1947 Catawba 31, Maryville (Tenn.) 0

Pick ATS: Alabama   Confidence Score: 0
OVERALL CONFIDENCE (35 most - 1 least): 1 out of 35

Pete Fiutak: Pick ATS - Michigan State  Pick Confidence - 34
- This could be the Sugar Bowl and no one would say boo about it. Michigan State should be in a BCS game, but it got left out because of the silly rule that only two teams from the same conference can be in the BCS. If Alabama hadn't gagged away the Iron Bowl, it would've been in the Sugar Bowl in an epic battle against Ohio State. As is, with Nick Saban coaching against his old team, this is easily the best matchup of the pre-BCS season and it should be a statement game for both programs and their conferences.

Richard Cirminiello: Pick ATS - Michigan State  Pick Confidence - 21
- If motivation becomes a deciding factor, the edge goes to Michigan State. While this is a really big deal for the Spartans, Alabama might have a tough time getting up for the Capital One Bowl.

Matt Zemek: Pick ATS - Michigan State  Pick Confidence - 28
- Once again, the Capital One Bowl has a game that's better than a BCS bowl. Not an irregular occurrence. Think Sparty fans want to beat Nick Saban something fierce? This will be a hard, hard, hard-hitting showdown.

Russ Mitchell: Pick ATS - Alabama  Pick Confidence - 30
- Arguably the best team in the Big Ten facing one of the better teams in the nation. The key in this one is whether or not Saban has his team up for this game – it's not like he's done a great job in the past getting his team motivated when it's in a bowl "below" their preseason expectations. MSU is very well balanced on offense, but it lacks the talent depth to stay with Bama for four quarters.

Barrett Sallee: Pick ATS - Alabama  Pick Confidence - 14
- This is definitely not where the Crimson Tide faithful wanted to play this postseason, but a game against a team that has been in the top 15 for the majority of the year will do. This will be it for the Alabama career of Greg McElroy, and likely for Julio Jones and Mark Ingram. Those guys should go out as winners.

Gabe Harris: Pick ATS - Alabama  Pick Confidence - 5
Brian Harbach: Pick ATS - Alabama  Pick Confidence - 31
Matthew Smith: Pick ATS - Alabama  Pick Confidence - 9
Billy Gomila: Pick ATS - Alabama  Pick Confidence - 20
Clucko (A coin flip): Pick ATS - Michigan State    Pick Confidence -  28