CFN Bowl Analysis ...
Alabama 49, Michigan St 7
“As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”
The whole SEC athletic superiority thing over the Big Ten is a total and complete myth, even after all the disasters on New Year’s Day. No, the SEC isn’t bigger, stronger, and faster than the Big Ten.
But Alabama was bigger, stronger, and faster than Michigan State.
I actually thought Michigan State might have a chance to win this game. After not seeing much of anything from the Alabama offensive line all year long, and with the Spartans looking to make a statement after being shut out from the Rose Bowl and the BCS, this had the makings to be a fantastic game between two very talented teams coming off very good regular seasons.
And then Alabama decided to be Alabama again.
The long layoff between the regular season and the bowls hurts the timing of some teams, kills the momentum of others, and tends to hurt some teams that just don’t have the fight in them anymore. On the flip side, it seemed to recharge Alabama’s batteries as Mark Ingram looked quicker and more decisive than he had all season long, and the defense seemed to have a spring in its step that was missing at times throughout the regular season. No, Michigan State isn’t that bad; Alabama was just that good.
But a loss like this sets the Spartans back to Square One and totally ruins all the positives that came from the Big Ten championship season. 11-1, Schmeleven-and-one. The team didn’t show up in the prove-it game, and this will be the lasting image on an otherwise great season. If Michigan State was so upset about not getting to play in a BCS game, then it needed to come out and prove that it belonged. Instead, it got hammered and didn’t belong on the same field with the 2009 national champions.
- Greg McElroy completed 19-of-23 passes and finished with the greatest passing season in school history. He wasn’t touched and took target practice on the Michigan State secondary.
- Michigan State came into the game ranked 39th in the nation in rushing. It was held to -48 rushing yards. The Spartan offensive line got killed by the Bama defensive front.
- Alabama pulled the main starters with ten minutes to play in the third quarter. Let that sink in for a moment.
My apologies, ‘Bama. I couldn’t have been more wrong about your motivation for today’s Capital One Bowl.
Yup, I’m one of the guys who wondered, privately and aloud, if the defending national champs were going to be adequately focused for Michigan State. Do-over, please? Maybe the Tide heard from its growing number of doubters over the last few weeks because that was as impressive a performance as you’re going to see this postseason. The 49-7 demolition of Michigan State was textbook Alabama under Nick Saban. The team was physical at the point of attack, bullying the Spartans up and down the field, and its execution was mid-season form. Oh, and you could tell that unlike the Sugar Bowl two years ago, winning this game really mattered to the Tide. Who knew?
- Had ‘Bama played that way during the 9-3 regular season, it, not Auburn, might have been in Glendale today. The running game, in particular, which was spotty at times in the fall, went old school on Michigan State, pounding out 270 yards.
- Okay, so at least we can stop wondering now if Michigan State got jobbed by a system that denied it a shot at a BCS bowl game. Based on today’s dreadful performance by the Spartans, they were fortunate to be playing in January and not December.
- Alabama DE Marcel Dareus looked like he was back at the top of his game, tossing around Spartan linemen with relative ease. With scouts looking on, you have to figure this was his last game as an unpaid player.
By Matt Zemek
Here’s the main thing to realize about the 2011 Capital One Bowl: College football needs to test upper-tier teams out of conference. The sport needs a mechanism/event/system that will force teams to play at least one high-caliber non-conference opponent before going to a bowl game.
This assault in Orlando, this mother of all beatdowns, is a major story not because Alabama maxed out and bought what its coach was selling (though the Crimson Tide deserve a lot of credit for not grumbling about their three-loss regular season); this is a big development because of the extent to which Michigan State got exposed.
What happened to an 11-1 co-champion of a BCS conference has happened to plenty of other teams in the BCS era. Teams that won weak BCS conferences and didn’t play anyone particularly formidable in non-league play have often been slaughtered on the big stage. From Syracuse in the 1999 Orange Bowl to Pitt in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl; from Hawaii in the 2008 Sugar Bowl to Cincinnati in the 2010 Sugar Bowl, the BCS era has given us many examples in which a bowl unmasked a team as unworthy.
Let’s make this key distinction: It’s always possible for a team to get crushed even when it enters a bowl game with a few non-conference scalps under its belt. Think of Ohio State in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game. However, the bottom-line point is clear: College football, in order to become a better and healthier sport, should make sure that its top-tier teams are tested before bowl games, not after them.
Naturally, some teams – think of Boise State in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl and Utah in the 2009 Sugar Bowl – didn’t play a long list of elite teams but still defeated power-conference opponents when given their big chance. That reality should not prevent college football from instituting new ways to test the likes of Michigan State before a bowl game.
Whom did the Spartans play out of conference this year? Notre Dame, Florida Atlantic, Western Michigan, and Northern Colorado. It’s perfectly fair – and actually, quite logical – to say that Alabama would have demolished Sparty no matter what. The Crimson Tide, when fully locked in on defense and taking absolutely no plays off for three full quarters, will obliterate many opponents in the upper reaches of AQ conferences. Yet, it would have been good for the sport if Michigan State had entered the Citrus Bowl stadium with a stern non-conference test under its belt. That way, we could have said that Alabama destroyed Sparty in a clash of titans. Because Michigan State never played a big-league non-conference foe, the headline for this game must instead be something to the effect of: “Michigan State exposed as not-ready-for-elite competition.”
This reform can’t be made in the current four-year BCS rotation, but one would like to think it can be implemented if another BCS round is approved for the 2014-2017 seasons: Schedule only 11 games per season, play the conference title games on Thanksgiving weekend, and leave the first Saturday of December open. Have a BracketBuster-like event on the first Saturday of December, in which premier non-conference games are arranged across the country, with higher-ranked teams hosting. College football isn’t ready for this as a practical political matter, but the important thing to understand is that the sport needs to embrace this idea before the 2014 season. Making Michigan State (and other teams in equivalent situations) face elite non-conference competition before a bowl game is the kind of act that will help college football in ways we can’t fully measure.
Michigan State entered the Capital One Bowl as Big Ten tri-champions, ranked in the top 10, fresh off one of the best regular seasons in program history…and was a double digit underdog to a three-loss Alabama team that finished fourth in its DIVISION. Talk about a slap in the face to the Spartans and the Big Ten.
Maybe a punch in the gut would have been more appropriate. After all, it would have prepared them for what transpired in Orlando.
The Crimson Tide only won 49-7. I say only, because it could have been much, much worse.
- Hello? Michigan State? Do you have an offensive line? The Spartans apparently decided that blocking was optional – and chose to decline that option. Spartan quarterback Kirk Cousins hung in as long as he could, but let’s be honest, the guy didn’t stand a chance.
- Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy went out with a bang, completing 13-of-17 passes for 220 yards and one touchdown. It wasn’t the season McElroy wanted nor what Bama Nation expected, but it was quite a finale for McElroy.
- If this was the last game for underclassmen Julio Jones and Mark Ingram, they both enjoyed themselves. Even though the game was essentially over when Alabama got off the bus, Jones all but made it official with a 35-yard touchdown run on a reverse late in the first half to make it 28-0 at the half. Ingram looked like the Ingram of 2009, punishing Michigan State defenders on the few touches that he got.
This will inevitably vault Alabama into National Championship consideration for 2011. While that may be possible, let’s hold off on that talk until the underclassmen make their decisions. It was a solid win against a Spartan team that was obviously out-manned. But as we saw this year, anything is possible in the SEC West.