Michigan State and Texas Christian University each ranked in the Top 15 early this season, and both had definite BCS bowl possibilities.
But the Horned Frogs (7-5) lost their quarterback four games into the season, and the Spartans (6-6) lost five games by a total of 13 points. And so they will meet at 10:15 p.m. Friday in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Tempe, Ariz.
It could be titled the Home Alone Bowl. Each school went 0-4 in conference home games during disappointing seasons in the Big Ten (3-5, fourth in Legends Division) and Big 12 (4-5, tied for fifth). Both teams are looking to regain some respect, and the Spartans are playing to avoid a losing season.
“We’re going to live on this game for the next eight months,” MSU coach Mark Dantonio said at a recent press conference. “There’s no question about that. We saw how it went last year with the Outback Bowl. We also have seen how it’s gone in the past when we haven’t done so well in the bowl game.”
Spartans linebacker Denicos Allen added: “It would be big. Coach always tells us the seniors want to leave a legacy and we are trying to set the tone for next season. We really think that would be a big boost into next season. It would be a big win, and back-to-back. I don’t know when the last time that happened for this program.”
MSU broke a five-game bowl losing streak last year with a triple-overtime win over Georgia in the Outback Bowl, and last won consecutive bowls in the Jan. 1, 2000 Citrus Bowl over Florida (Nick Saban’s last game) and the Dec. 31, 2001 Silicon Valley Football Classic against Fresno State.
Beating the Horned Frogs could very well come down to two things:
Containing quarterback Trevone Boykin, who replaced suspended starter Casey Pachall, and TCU’s standout defensive ends, freshman Devonte Fields and junior Stansly Maponga.
Fields, the Big 12 defensive player of the year in a media vote, had 17 ½ tackles for lost yardage, nine sacks, three pass breakups, one interception, three quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and one recovered fumble.
Maponga, born in Zimbabwe, had six tackles for lost yardage, 3 ½ sacks, four quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and two recovered fumbles.
“I think they’ve got a lot of similarities to Ohio State in regards to their front four,” said Spartans offensive coordinator Dan Roushar. “They’re very movement driven, a lot of slanting and angling. And when they’re reading, they move awfully well.
“Their defensive ends are both very, very good. Stansly, he gets an awful lot of help. People get help to him with chips and those kinds of things. His numbers aren’t quite as strong as Fields’, but I think their defensive ends are going to be as good as we’ve played against. They remind me a lot of our defense in many ways, just with their activity, their ability to run to the football and get off blocks and make plays.”
Dantonio had more “live” hitting in bowl practices to better prepare quarterback Andrew Maxwell, and also is considering more running plays for Maxwell. His longest run was 10 yards, and he lost 87 yards on 32 carries (including 19 sacks).
Maxwell said, “I think that’s one of the things that I maybe wasn’t as ready for as I could have been going into the season — just really having a good feel for how much time you have back in the pocket. In (regular season) practice when you get sacked, it’s really just a tag off on the hip. But to really have the pressure, to have the pocket coming in on you and have being hit be a reality, that’s good work for me.”
Several Spartans commented that the spread offense and big-play capability of the Horned Frogs remind them of Northwestern. That begins with Boykin, a freshman quarterback. He stepped in for Pachall following the starter’s arrest for suspicion of drunken driving several months after admitting to marijuana use.
Pachall went into an inpatient rehabilitation facility shortly after leading TCU to a 4-0 start by throwing for 948 yards with 10 touchdowns and one interception. Boykin is a better runner, but made more mistakes while learning the offense, throwing for 1,622 yards with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
TCU doesn’t have a go-to running back like MSU’s Le’Veon Bell (1,648 yards), but does have able runners and deep-threat receivers in Josh Bryce (61 catches, 800 yards, seven touchdowns) and Brandon Carter (34 catches, 579 yards, six touchdowns).
“They look more like a Northwestern,” said Spartans safety Kurtis Drummond. “They have playmakers and move fast. They have an explosive offense and can make a big play. We just have to bring our enthusiasm and our energy and all be on the same page.”
…Dantonio and TCU coach Gary Patterson developed a friendship during years of attending Nike retreats.
…Patterson is 116-35 as the head coach in Fort Worth, and beat Wisconsin two years ago in the Rose Bowl
…The Spartans are 8-14 in bowl games, but 18-2-1 against current Big 12 members.
…The Horned Frogs are appearing in a school-record eighth straight bowl, while MSU is playing in its school-record sixth consecutive bowl
…TCU tied LSU and North Carolina for the most true and redshirt freshmen (28) playing this season, and TCU has more true freshmen (16) playing than scholarship seniors (11)
…Brad Nessler and Todd Blackledge are the ESPN broadcasters for the game.