TCU-Michigan St. Preview
Expectations were high for Michigan State and TCU after each posted 11 victories during the 2011 season.
For one reason or another, neither lived up to the hype.
The Spartans and Horned Frogs will look to end disappointing campaigns on a positive note when two strong defensive teams meet in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium.
An experienced offense was also a major factor as Michigan State won the Big Ten Legends Division last season before beating Georgia in the Outback Bowl to finish 11-3.
The Spartans began 2012 ranked 13th and reached as high as No. 10, but the losses of last year's stars - quarterback Kirk Cousins and receivers B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin - proved difficult to overcome as Michigan State (6-6) ranked ninth in the Big Ten gaining an average of 370.3 yards.
"We lost 95 percent of our passing offense from last year, whether it be the quarterback, two tight ends, three wide receivers and a tailback as well," coach Mark Dantonio said. "So our guys came in inexperienced."
Junior Andrew Maxwell threw for 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions and was inconsistent while replacing Cousins. His receiving corps also struggled, with drops among the reasons he completed a Big Ten-worst 52.9 percent of his passes.
The Spartans beat then-No. 24 Boise State to open the season Aug. 31 and won at Rose Bowl-bound Wisconsin for the first time in 11 years Oct. 27, but they dropped five Big Ten games by a combined 13 points.
Their only loss by more than four was a 20-3 home defeat to Notre Dame, but they needed a 26-10 win at Minnesota in their regular-season finale Nov. 24 to become bowl eligible.
"We haven't had a football game where we've lost in a big way. They've all been close," Dantonio said. "One play here, one play there, we're a different football team.
"We want to point our compass north. I believe the glass is half full, not half empty. That's how our football team expects to play. We come ready to play every week. We'll play with confidence."
TCU was confident after going 11-2 overall and 7-0 in the Mountain West in 2011, but it dealt with its own adversity during its first season in the Big 12.
Junior quarterback Casey Pachall guided the team to victory in its first four contests and a No. 15 ranking before being arrested on suspicion of DWI on Oct. 4.
Pachall eventually entered an inpatient program and withdrew from school, leaving the starting job to freshman Trevone Boykin. The Horned Frogs (7-5) dropped four of their final six games, but they did win at West Virginia and Texas, and coach Gary Patterson said Boykin earned some valuable experience.
"Obviously it's hard to give up a junior that had been (15-2 in his career)," Patterson said. "But what Trevone has done in this month of December gave him a chance to step back (and get) 13, 14 practices back under his belt to make him better. It's going to help him quite a bit to be able to do that.
"Obviously (he) got us back to a bowl game, which was something that was a concern from the beginning anytime you make that kind of a change."
Boykin finished with 15 TD passes and nine INTs, also rushing for 380 yards as TCU wound up eighth in the 10-team conference averaging 397.0 total yards.
The running game struggled at times - TCU was last in the Big 12 with 3.9 yards per carry - and the Horned Frogs may have a tough time moving the ball against a Michigan State defense that ranked fourth in the FBS allowing only 274.5 yards per game.
The Spartans' five rushing touchdowns allowed were tied for the second-fewest in the country behind Notre Dame's two. Junior linebacker Max Bullough and defensive backs Johnny Adams and Darqueze Dennard were named to the All-Big Ten first team.
"That will be our challenge - to produce points against a group that hasn't given up a lot of points this season," Patterson said.
TCU's defensive unit was no slouch, leading the offensive-minded Big 12 and ranking 18th in the nation giving up an average of 332.0 yards. Freshman defensive end Devonte Fields was the AP's Big 12 defensive player of the year after leading the conference in tackles for loss (17 1/2) while adding nine sacks.
"I think both teams have outstanding defenses," Dantonio said. "I've known coach Patterson for quite a while. He's a defensive-minded coach, as I am."
The Horned Frogs will try to contain first-team All-Big Ten selection Le'Veon Bell, who led the conference with 137.3 rushing yards per game. Bell ran for a career-high 266 yards and scored his 11th rushing touchdown in the season finale.
"We already knew about Bell," Patterson said. "We have our hands full. We're going to have to physically get ready for this ballgame come the 29th."
The schools haven't met since Michigan State beat TCU in 1953.