TCU vs. Michigan State: Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Breakdown
TCU (7-5) vs. Michigan State (6-6)
Dec. 29, 10:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
• Reason to watch: The postseason meeting between TCU and Michigan State might most aptly be described as "The Underachievement Bowl." Both programs had top-10 aspirations in the preseason before stumbling out of the polls by season's end. TCU climbed as high as No. 13 in its inaugural stint in the Big 12 before losing three of four after a 4-0 start. Michigan State, meanwhile, began the year ranked No. 13 but struggled in close contests against the nation's fifth-toughest schedule, falling by fewer than four points in all but one of its losses. Nevertheless, fans of defensive football should be licking their chops for this matchup. The Horned Frogs and the Spartans both led their respective conferences in total defense, rushing defense and third-down defense, so don't expect a busy night for the scoreboard operator at Sun Devil Stadium.
• Keep an eye on: Michigan State junior running back Le'Veon Bell. Bell led the Big Ten and ranked third nationally with 137.3 rushing yards per game, including a career-high 266 yards in the Spartans' season-finale against Minnesota. Bell recorded more rushing touchdowns by himself (11) than TCU allowed during the entire season (10), so the junior's performance will be key for Michigan State if it hopes to capitalize on a defense that locked down its opponents' ground attack during the regular season.
• Did you know: Both the Horned Frogs and the Spartans finished with losing records at home and winning records on the road, and they meet in Tempe without a single home conference victory between them.
• Final analysis: With two stifling defenses going head to head, this game has all the makings of a bowl with only one or two defining moments on offense. Thus the quarterback battle will be key, as TCU's Trevone Boykin and Michigan State's Andrew Maxwell both put together inconsistent seasons under center. The Spartan offense never found its groove as Maxwell attempted to fill in for the departed Kirk Cousins, and Boykin tossed nine picks in eight starts for the Horned Frogs -- a worrisome stat in a matchup against defensive backs as talented as Michigan State's Johnny Adams and Darqueze Dennard. But Boykin's scrambling ability gives TCU a slight edge, as does a defense that boasts experience against a tougher slate of offenses in the Big 12 than Michigan State faced in the Big Ten.
• The pick: TCU 15, Michigan State 10