Capital One Bowl Preview
Dec. 22, 2010
Michigan State (11-1, 7-1) returns to the Capital One Bowl for the second time in three seasons and will make its fourth straight bowl appearance, matching a school record set following the 1987-90 campaigns. The Spartans will be playing in their third Capital One Bowl, including a victory over Florida in 2000 when it was known as the Citrus Bowl and a loss to Georgia in 2009. MSU will challenge Alabama (9-3, 5-3 SEC) of the SEC on Saturday, Jan. 1, at 1 p.m. ET in Orlando, Fla. The school has posted an overall record of 7-13 in bowl games with a mark of 7-12 since joining the Big Ten. Mark Dantonio is the first head coach in school history to lead Michigan State to bowl games in each of his first four seasons on campus. Big Ten squads maintain an 11-9 mark in the Capital One Bowl, including victories in five of the last six years by Iowa (2005), Wisconsin (2006, 2007), Michigan (2008) and Penn State (2010).
The Crimson Tide is making its fourth consecutive bowl appearance under head coach Nick Saban and the seventh straight for the school. Saban, a former Michigan State mentor, is 2-1 in bowl games at Alabama, defeating Texas in the 2010 BCS National Championship Game and knocking off Colorado in the 2007 Independence Bowl. The Tide's bowl loss under Saban came in the 2009 Sugar Bowl against Utah. Alabama is making its second appearance in the Capital One Bowl and its first since beating Ohio State, 24-17, in the 1995 Florida Citrus Bowl following the 1994 season. The Tide, 31-23-3 all-time in the postseason, have played in more bowl games (58) and earned more bowl wins (31) than any school in college football history.
The 2011 Capital One Bowl marks the first-ever meeting between Michigan State and Alabama.
Michigan State ranked fourth in passing (237.8) and total yards (406.7), and fifth in rushing (168.8) and scoring (31.3). In fact, Michigan State scored at least 30 points in a school-record nine games this season. The Spartans are led by first-team All-Big Ten selection Edwin Baker, a sophomore tailback that led the team in carries (195), rushing yards (1,187) and rushing touchdowns (13). Baker was third in the league with 98.9 rushing yards per game. Under center is junior Kirk Cousins, who was extremely efficient in the second half of the season, including the season finale win at Penn State. Cousins completed 17-of-22 throws for 152 yards and two touchdowns to improve his status on several single-season school annals. His .675 completion percentage (first), 153.5 passing efficiency rating (third), 216 pass completions (fourth), 2,705 passing yards (fourth), 20 TD passes (tied for fourth), 2,625 total yards (fourth), seven 200-yard passing games (seventh) and 320 pass attempts (eighth) all rank among the school’s top 10. Wideout Mark Dell, who has 761 yards and six touchdowns on the year and 131 catches for 2,109 yards in his career, will be a primary target for Cousins, as will tight end Charlie Gantt, a second-team All-Conference selection. The Spartans will be without the services of junior B.J. Cunningham, who suffered a broken foot during practice for the bowl game. Cunningham had 50 catches and nine touchdown receptions and ranked second on the team with 611 receiving yards this year.
Alabama boasts one of the top defenses in the country, topping the SEC with in scoring defense (14.1) and total defense (296.0), and ranking second in passing (172.7) and fourth in rushing (123.3). Leading the Tide’s defense is first-team AP All-American safety Mark Barron. This year he had a team-high 75 total stops and 54 solo tackles, as well as three interceptions, three tackles for loss, two sacks, six pass breakups and a forced fumble. Junior Marcell Dareus was a third-team AP All-American after registering 31 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, four pass deflections and seven quarterback hurries. He has 10 sacks and 18 tackles for loss in his Alabama career. The Tide was also paced by two newcomers who received SEC recognition. C.J. Mosley played in all 12 games as a true freshman at linebacker and ranked third on the team with 66 tackles. He also registered two quarterback hurries and eight pass breakups to go along with two interceptions that he returned for touchdowns. Dee Milliner played in all 12 games at defensive back and earned nine starts as a true freshman. He totaled 52 tackles, including 38 solo stops as well as breaking up five passes, forcing a fumble, intercepting a pass, and tallying a quarterback hurry.
Offensively, the Crimson Tide was third in the SEC in scoring (34.6) and passing (260.3), fourth in total yards (435.6) and fifth in rushing (175.2). Mark Ingram, the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner, grew up in Flint, Mich., as a huge Spartan fan and was recruited heavily by Mark Dantonio. This season, however, has not been as impressive as his record-setting campaign last year, although his efforts have still been respectable. Last year he rushed for a school-record 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns, and has turned in 811 yards and 11 touchdowns in 10 games this season. Greg McElroy is under center for the Tide, ranking fourth in the conference with 230.6 passing yards per game during the regular season. He holds the third-best passer rating in the SEC at 166.9 and owns the conference’s best completion rate at 70.6. Julio Jones set Alabama single-season records with 75 receptions for 1,084 yards in 2010 to garner his first first-team AP All-America honor. He also caught seven touchdowns and rushed for 99 yards and a score on six carries. Jones ranks second in both career receptions (176), second in career yards (2,604) and tied for fourth in career touchdown receptions (15).
On the defensive side of the ball, the Spartans were third in the Big Ten in scoring (20.1) and defending the rush (121.9), fourth in total yards (337.8), and seventh against the pass (215.8). Leading the way was senior linebacker Greg Jones, who was the only repeat selection from last year's AP All-America First Team. Jones led the Spartans in tackles (98), forced fumbles (3) and quarterback hurries (6) and ranked second in tackles for loss (8 for 18 yards). He was also among the Big Ten leaders in forced fumbles (tied for second) and tackles (sixth at 8.2 per game). Several other Spartans were honored by the conference office, including second-team representatives Eric Gordon (6.5 TFLs, 2.0 sacks) and the team’s secondary unit made up of Johnny Adams (3 INT, 7 pass breakups), Trenton Robinson (4 INT, 8 pass breakups), and Chris L. Rucker (3.5 TFLs, 2 INT, 7 pass breakups).