Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Primer: TCU vs. Michigan State

By Tom Fornelli | College Football Writer

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TCU Horned Frogs (7-5 Overall; 4-5 Big 12)

TCU found life in the Big 12 a bit tougher than it had grown accustomed to in the Mountain West. The Horned Frogs got off to a 4-0 start on the season before losing five of their final eight games once conference play went into full swing. Part of the reason for this was the adjustment to a Big 12 Conference full of high-octane, high-scoring offenses. After spending many of the last few seasons as one of the best defenses in the country as far as points allowed, TCU found itself allowing 23.1 points per game in 2012, which was good enough for only 35th in the nation. However, had the Horned Frogs been able to score more points this season -- TCU is ranked 61st with 29.3 points per game -- in a conference that allows points by the dozen, its inaugural Big 12 campaign could have been a lot better.

At Their Best. A week after TCU saw its own 12-game win streak come to an end in a surprising loss to Iowa State the Horned Frogs put an end to somebody else's streak. In what may have been its best all-around offensive performance of the season TCU beat Baylor 49-21 to end the Bears' nine-game home winning streak. It wasn't just the fact that the TCU offense totalled 509 yards on the day or held on to the ball for 42 minutes, but it was also the fact the Frogs offense was 14 for 19 on third down. That included four touchdown passes from Trevone Boykin that came on third downs. On the other side of the ball the TCU defense held the score-happy Baylor offense to only 21 points and forced an astounding six turnovers.

At Their Worst. When you consider that every single one of TCU's five losses came against a team playing in a bowl game this season it's hard to pinpoint any true lowpoints of the season. Still, TCU found the Big 12 to be quite a chore, as it failed to finish with a winning record in the conference, and limped to the finish line with a 2-4 record in its final six games.

Headliner. It's not often a freshman comes along and is named a conference's Defensive Player of the Year, but that's exactly what TCU defensive end Devonte Fields did in 2012. You will not have much trouble finding him during the game as he'll be the guy making Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell's life a living nightmare tonight. Fields' statline on the season reads like a video game: He finished with 49 tackles, 17 1/2 tackles for loss, nine sacks, four passes defended, two fumbles forced and, serving as the cherry on top, an interception.

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Michigan State Spartans (6-6 Overall; 3-5 Big Ten)

After finishing the 2011 season with a 33-30 triple-overtime win over Georgia in the Outback Bowl, Michigan State was considered a serious contender for a Big Ten title in 2012, thanks in large part to a hellacious defense. Unfortunately for the Spartans, losing so many key players on offense was just too much to overcome. Even though Michigan State's defense allowed only 16.3 points per game (9th in the nation) and 4.33 yards per play (4th), the Spartans offense could only manage 20.3 points per game (109th). A great defense can only do so much.

At Their Best. In late October Michigan State went to Madison, Wisc., looking for a bit of revenge for last year's loss in the Big Ten Championship. The Spartans got it, too, despite a lackluster performance for most of the game. In the closing minutes Michigan State would put together a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to tie the game with just over a minute left. In overtime, after Wisconsin had to settle for a field goal on its first possession, Maxwell found Bennie Fowler for a 12-yard game-winning touchdown pass.

At Their Worst. It's not hard to find the low point. The Spartans started the season 4-2 with their only losses coming against two teams that didn't lose in 2012: Notre Dame and Ohio State. However, when a bad Iowa came back in the final minute to tie the game and beat Michigan State in double-overtime -- similar to what the Spartans would do to Wisconsin a couple weeks later -- the air seemed to come out of this Michigan State team. If there was any left it was surely squeezed out the next week when "big brother" Michigan won another ugly game 12-10 in the Big House. The Spartans suddenly found themselves at 4-4 and 1-3 in the Big Ten, and the win against Wisconsin a week later just wasn't enough to salvage the season.

Headliner. Michigan State's defense is outstanding and led by players like Max Bullough, Denicos Allen and William Gholston. However, the man who makes the biggest difference is running back Le'Veon Bell. Bell rushed for 1,648 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, and it's no coincidence that Michigan State is 5-2 when Bell runs for at least one touchdown this season. There's a chance this could be Bell's final game with Michigan State as the junior is currently projected to be a third- or fourth-round draft pick should he leave school to enter the NFL Draft.

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What: Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

When: Saturday, Dec. 29 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN

Where: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.

Weird: Although this is TCU's eighth consecutive trip to a bowl game and there have been two BCS bowl games in that span, this is only the second time the Horned Frogs have faced an opponent from a BCS conference in that span. The only other time it happened was the 2011 Rose Bowl victory against Wisconsin.

Line: TCU -2

Prediction: If you are thinking that this game will resemble the football games you see in Buffalo Wild Wings commercials, you are going to be very disappointed. If you like monsters on the defensive line and seeing quarterbacks running for their lives, make a late-night date with your television. This will be a low-scoring game in which turnovers and special teams are likely going to decide the outcome. In other words, it can go either way, though I tend to think it will go TCU's way.

TCU 20 Michigan State 17

 
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