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We have it on good authority that Michigan State Coach Mark Dantonio began his research into Alabama’s 2015 football team checking on the running back depth. The only other time the Spartans faced the Crimson Tide Bama’s running backs depth chart included Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, and Eddie Lacy.
Those three combined for five touchdown runs – including third-teamer Lacy’s 62-yard fourth quarter burst – as Alabama defeated Michigan State 49-7 in the 2011 Capital One Bowl.
It is the only meeting in history between the two schools. They will meet again Thursday, Dec. 31, in the Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, in the Cotton Bowl semifinals of the College Football Playoff.
And as the late Chicago Cubs great Ernie Banks would say, let’s play two.
The winner of the Cotton Bowl will play in a second bowl game on Jan. 11, the national championship game in Phoenix against the winner of Clemson vs. Oklahoma.
Alabama is champion of the Southeastern Conference and Michigan won the Big Ten title this year. Both teams are 12-1.
Among other things, the game matches head coaches who are good friends in Alabama’s Nick Saban and Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio. Dantonio formerly served as an assistant coach under Saban when Saban was head coach at Michigan State.
There was another time when the coaches at the two schools were good friends. Paul Bryant of Alabama and Duffy Daugherty of Michigan State, both legends, were very close.
Alabama is the only team that played in last year’s inaugural College Football Playoff that made it back to the four-team format this year. Last year the Tide was the top seed, but Bama was eliminated in the semifinal round by eventual national champion Ohio State, 42-35.
This will be Alabama’s national record 63rd bowl game. The Crimson Tide has a record of 35-24-3 in those games and has played in the historical Big Four – Rose, Sugar, Orange, and Cotton – 33 times.
Bama has a record of 3-4 in Cotton Bowl games, but none of those were played in the Dallas Cowboys Stadium venue. The Tide does have some experience in the stadium, though, and against Big Ten teams. Alabama opened its 2011 national championship season with a 41-14 win over Michigan and opened this season on Sept. 5 with a 35-17 win over Wisconsin.
Alabama has played in only one Fiesta Bowl game, and that before the Fiesta replaced the Cotton in the former Big Four lineup. (Now the Cotton is back and has been joined by the Peach Bowl in Atlanta as the Big Six in the playoff format.) In 1990, Gene Stallings’ first year as Bama head coach, the Tide went to the Fiesta and was beaten by Louisville, 34-7.
Alabama has won seven national crowns playing in bowl games, beginning with the first bowl game to decide the national champion, a 39-28 win in the Orange Bowl over Nebraska at the end of the 1965 season. Bryant teams also won championships in 1978 and 1979 in the Sugar Bowl, as did a Stallings team in 1992, and Saban has won BCS national championships in the Rose, Sugar, and Orange Bowls.
(Alabama also has some national championships in great part because of Rose Bowl success before there were systematic changes to determine the title.)
As for this year’s Crimson Tide at running back, Derrick Henry needs 14 yards to reach the 2,000-yard mark. He has already erased the SEC record of Herschel Walker as Henry has run 339 times for 1,986 yards (5.9 yards per carry) with 23 touchdowns.
So that’s pretty much all Dantonio and the Spartans need to worry about.