Baylor vs Michigan State- Cotton Bowl Preview

A New Year is upon us, and for the second straight season, Baylor fans will celebrate with a little football. The Bears make a short trip north to Arlington, TX to take on Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl Classic.

This is not where either team really wanted to be at the beginning of the year. With both teams coming off of conference championships and returning very talented squads led by All-Conference caliber quarterbacks, the Baylor Bears and Michigan State Spartans had their eyes set on a larger prize. However, with a loss to West Virginia for Baylor and two losses to playoff bound opponents for Michigan State, those dreams were not meant to be.

Two teams that have risen to the top of their conferences and the fringes of the nationally elite the past few years, Baylor and Michigan State will get together in the Cotton Bowl, another member of this game that is returning to national glory and a prime spot in college football. All three have something to prove. The Bears are looking to prove that they should have been given a shot in the playoffs, while Michigan State looks to show that they can beat a high powered offense with tremendous speed. The state will be the Cotton Bowl, looking to move back into the New Years and National spotlight in a newish home.

Matchup 4/5/5 BAYLOR (11-1, 8-1) vs. 7/7/8 MICHIGAN STATE (10-2, 7-1)
Date Jan. 1, 2015 | 11:30 a.m. CT
Location Arlington, Texas | AT&T Stadium (80,000)
Radio ESPN Central Texas | Sirius 83
Online Audio Listen Online
Live Stats Gametracker
Gameday Info Gameday Central
Game Notes Baylor Notes |Michigan State Notes
Twitter @BUFootball

Fun Stats of the Game

- The Cotton Bowl Classic will be BU's 100th game played in the Metroplex and BU has a record of 46-48-5 in DFW

-MSU Head Coach Mark Dantonio is 3-4 in bowl games, while Art Briles is 2-2. Dantonio and Michigan State have won their last 3 bowl games though

- Baylor has compiled a 20-3 mark in games after October 31 since 2011 (14-2 in Nov., 6-0 in Dec., 0-1 in Jan.). Included in those games is an 8-3 record vs. AP Top 25 teams

-Baylor is looking for its first ever win in the Cotton Bowl in its 3rd overall appearance. They last played in the Cotton Bowl in 1981, losing to Alabama 30-2

-Michigan State has the best turnover margin (+20) in FBS. They have the 3rd most caused turnovers (33, 17 interceptions and 16 fumbles) and have the 13th fewest turnovers (13, 6 fumbles and 7 interceptions)

-Baylor has won its last 21 games in the State of Texas. Both Baylor and Michigan State have played at AT&T Stadium this year, with Baylor beating Texas Tech and Michigan State losing to Oregon

-Michigan State is 19-2-1 against current members of the Big 12, but just 2-2 since 1993

-Baylor is 26-3 over its last 29 games, while Michigan State 25-3 over its last 28 games

-Both Michigan State and Baylor have won 8 conference titles – Baylor (Southwest Conference:

1915, 1922, 1924, 1974, 1980, 1994; Big 12: 2013, 2014); Michigan State (1953, 1965, 1966, 1978, 1987,

1990, 2010, 2013), with both Art Briles and Mark Dantonio winning two conference championships apiece at their current schools

Key Matchups

-Baylor Running Backs vs. Michigan State Linebackers

The Spartans are going to have to make a difficult choice in this game. Their personnel is set up to battle against Big 10 teams, which are traditionally run first with big lineman and even big fullbacks. MSU has linebackers and safeties built for those types of offenses. If they play their base defense, with three 240+ pound linebackers clogging up the middle of the field, how will the Baylor running backs be able to run against a standard front? Normally when the Bears offense saw a 6-man front, they would just hand the ball off and wear the defense down. Against Michigan State, one of those 210 pound linebackers or hybrid safeties will be replaced with a 240 pound true linebacker. That is something the Bears have not really seen this year.

To counteract that, the Bears will try and get those linebackers into the open field, away from the line of scrimmage. A matchup with a slow-footed linebacker and Corey Coleman or KD Cannon is a dream scenario for the Bears, and a nightmare for the Spartans. If Michigan State adjusts and puts more speed out there at the “star” position or even at the linebacker spots, the issue of having a lot more size in the second level of the defense is gone. How the Spartans play the Bears on that second level will be fascinating to watch. With the Bears tempo, Michigan State will have to make a choice and stick with it for multiple plays. By then, if they have chosen poorly, it could be too late.

-MSU Wide Receiver Tony Lippett vs. the Baylor Secondary

The Bears don’t like double teaming wide receivers. We know this by now to be true. Baylor didn’t double team Kevin White or even Tyler Lockett earlier this year when the situation screamed for them to do so. Against Michigan State, they face a similar type of #1 wide receiver with good size and speed. Lippett is one of the best receivers in the Big 10, and has big play ability. Quite honestly, the Bears have struggled mightily against similar receivers.

How defensive coordinator Phil Bennett decides to attack Lippett is a big part of the overall scheme. A true double team with Xavien Howard in press coverage and help over the top by a safety will take a key player away from the line of scrimmage and hurt the Bears run defense. A scheme with Howard or another corner playing off the line of scrimmage and a linebacker playing underneath zone will do the same thing.

The best case is for the Bears best cover man, Howard, to find his confidence and play a great game in a man-to-man battle against one of the better wide receivers in the nation. In that case, yes Howard will get beat some, but if he can hold his own (similar to what the Bears did against Lockett in the regular season finale), the Bears can send more resources to stopping a very good rushing attack.

Analytical Breakdown

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Another pretty even matchup for the Bears, against the 2nd best team they will have faced in 2014, at least according to the computers. They Spartans are a step behind the Bears in most metrics, except for Sagarin. This is a legitimate matchup for Top-10 teams, with

Keys to the Game

1. Keep Petty Clean – This is a tremendous matchup between a great offensive line for the Bears and a great defensive line for Michigan State. Baylor allowed just 19 sacks on the season (28th fewest in the nation), a staggering amount considering the amount of passing plays they had. Michigan State was a very good pass rushing team in 2014, with over 3 sacks per game (9th best in FBS). They are led by a duo of good defensive ends in Demarcus Rush and Shilique Calhoun who combined for 13.5 sacks.

Michigan State received another 13 sacks from a trio of linebackers and even added a few sacks from their secondary. This is a good pass rush with a variety of weapons (4 players had 4 or more sacks on the year). The Bears offensive line will have to continue to pass block at an elite level and give Bryce Petty time on the deep play action passes to burn the Spartans defense.

2. Turnovers, man – Simply put, the Spartans are the best team in Turnover margin in the nation. They do a tremendous job of forcing turnovers and they take good care of the ball themselves. The Spartans had an FBS best 76.19% fumble recovery rate on 21 opponent fumbles. Statistically, fumble recovery percentage is pretty much 100% luck. You are depending on an oblong ball to bounce your way. In 2014, the Spartans got an incredible amount of lucky bounces.

What isn’t lucky though is the tremendous secondary play that the Spartans received in 2014. They were excellent for most of the season, with 17 interceptions, including three returned for touchdowns and 23rd most pass deflections per game. They are an active secondary that features one of the best cornerbacks in the nation in Trae Waynes. The Bears might lose the turnover battle, but they can’t get destroyed in it. A -2 or more could be too much to overcome against a very good team.

3. 3rd Down Stops – The Bears have been a very good 3rd down team on both sides of the ball. They are a Top-20 offense on 3rd down conversions and Top-30 on defense. Michigan State is a little bit better both ways though. They are ranked in the Top-11 offensively and defensively.

3rd Down Conversions
Team Offense Rank Defense Rank
Baylor 47.24% 17 35.94% 30
Michigan State 48.02% 11 30.54% 8

Whoever can win on third down will dictate the pace of the game. If Baylor wins, they can control the ball and push the tempo faster and faster. If Michigan State wins, they can slow the game down and tire out a Baylor defense and frustrate the Bears offense.


Massey Ratings – Spartans win 38-37

RealTime RPI – Bears win 43-34 – Bears win 37-30

Staff Predictions COMING SOON!

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