Bowl breakdown: TCU-Michigan State

Our TCU and Michigan State publishers give you players to watch, keys to victory and more for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

Editor's note: For selected games during bowl season, our publishers will go head-to-head to break down the game, giving you the players to watch, reasons to believe in each team and more.

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

TCU vs. Michigan State
Saturday, 10:15 p.m. ET (in Tempe, Ariz.)
CFN's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl prediction

TCU Horned Frogs

By Jeremy Clark,

Three players to watch

Jason Verrett, CB -- Verrett has been the most consistent defender on a Frogs defense that ranks first in the Big 12. He leads the conference with six interceptions and 20 pass breakups. He was the only player in the country to finish in the top 10 in both categories. He has been named to four All-American teams.

Devonte Fields, DE -- Fields played like a seasoned veteran in his first season as a college player. Fields led the Big 12 in tackles for loss (17.5) and was second in sacks (9). He was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press and National Defensive Freshman of the Year by Scout/FOX Sports NEXT.

Trevone Boykin, QB -- Boykin was dealt the tough task of replacing lost starter Casey Pachall in the fifth game of the season. Boykin responded by leading the Frogs to their eighth straight bowl game and notched road wins against Baylor, West Virginia and Texas. He threw four touchdown passes against Baylor and Texas Tech and threw for a career-high 332 yards against the Red Raiders.

Just a freshman, defensive end Devonte Fields is already a star for TCU.

Three strengths

Stopping the run. The Frogs rank 10th in the nation, surrendering only 103 yards per game. The biggest difference from last season to 2012 is the interior of the defensive line. Sophomores Chucky Hunter and Jon Lewis have been consistent all year, and their improvement has allowed ends Stansly Maponga and Fields to have great seasons. Davion Pierson is another defensive tackle who has been a force in the middle for the Frogs as a redshirt freshman.

Defending the pass. This can also be credited to the outstanding pass rush from the defensive line, but the secondary has played exceptionally well this season compared to last. In the pass-happy Big 12, the Frogs are giving up only 228 yards per game through the air. Verrett headlines the group and was responsible for containing All-Big 12 West Virginia receiver Stedman Bailey to just two catches and Oklahoma wideout Kenny Stills to just two catches for 16 yards. Sam Carter and Elisha Olabode lead a very talented group of safeties -- both hauled in four interceptions.

Utilizing Boykin. It's been said 100 times, but Boykin does add versatility to the offense in areas that Pachall couldn't. Plays such as the 94-yard touchdown pass to Josh Boyce against West Virginia don't happen without Boykin's ability to move around the pocket and make plays with his feet. He'll be asked to do so again against the Spartans as he continues to develop more into a passer.

Important thing you may not know

While they don't receive the same accolades as other freshmen, kicker Jaden Oberkrom and punter Ethan Perry will play an important role in this game just as they have all season.

Oberkrom has one of the strongest legs in the country and one of the best assets he gives are his kickoffs. Of 65 kicks this season, Oberkrom has 31 touchbacks. He has also gone 8-for-9 on field goals from 40-49 yards.

Perry, meanwhile, led the Big 12 and finished ninth nationally with an average of 45.2 yards on 56 punts, which included 16 punts inside the opponent's 20.

What TCU must do to win

Michigan State uses a balanced offense that relies heavily on the legs of junior running back Le'Veon Bell, who finished second in the Big 10 with 1,648 yards on the ground. Bell is a big, bruising back, but TCU has usually had great success under Gary Patterson stopping big backs.


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TCU's defensive line has to stuff the middle and allow the linebackers and ends to make plays. They'll use an eight- or nine-man rotation on the defensive line to keep fresh legs in at all times, much like they did against Wisconsin in the 2010 Rose Bowl.

Offensively, they have to attack the Spartans defense and not turn the ball over. Against a Michigan State team that ranks fourth in the country in total defense, handing the ball over spells doom. The Spartans may have a 6-6 record, but five losses were by a combined 13 points.

Michigan State Spartans

By Dave Berk,

Three players to watch

Le'Veon Bell, RB -- When the Spartans offense is running at peak performance, Bell is the workhorse, accounting for 91 percent of the Spartans rushing yards (1,648 of 1,819) and 79 percent of its rushing attempts (350 of 450). During the season, Bell gained 834 of his 1,648 rushing yards (51 percent) after contact, which ranked first among all NCAA FBS running backs.

Andrew Maxwell, QB -- In his first season as a starter, the junior quarterback has seen his share of ups and downs. On the season, Maxwell connected on 228 of his 431 pass attempts for 2,578 yards and 13 touchdowns. However, his nine interceptions and too many dropped passes by his receivers played a huge role in the Spartans failing to win close games.

The powerful Le'Veon Bell is the focus of the Michigan State offense.

Max Bullough, MLB -- A member of Michigan State's first family of football, Bullough is a third-generation Spartan, following in the footsteps of his grandfather Hank (1952-54) and father Shane (1983-86). Only a junior, Bullough led the Spartans in tackles (102) and tackles for loss (12 for 44 yards). Because of his football IQ, defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi has allowed Bullough to be the group's field general.

Three strengths

Michigan State's strength comes on both sides of the field. Offensively, the Spartans will look to control the clock with their power running attack led by Bell, the Big Ten's leading rusher in terms of yards per game.

However, the real strengths of the team lie in their defense. The Spartans' unit ranks among the top 20 in nine categories -- touchdowns allowed (second with 15), total defense (fourth at 273.3 ypg), pass efficiency defense (fourth at 99.0), pass break-ups (tied seventh at 5.0 per game), rushing defense (eighth at 99.6 ypg), pass defense (ninth at 173.7 ypg), scoring defense (10th at 16.3 ppg), passes defended (tied for 11th at 6.1 pg.), and third-down defense (tied for 12th at .309). Take your pick which two you want to add to this list of three.

Important thing you may not know


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The 6-6 record may not be impressive, but it certainly could've been a lot better for the Spartans. Michigan State fully understands how to play a good game, as the Spartans' five Big Ten losses came by a combined total of 13 points. The closest of those losses came against Ohio State, when the Buckeyes held on to defeat the Spartans 17-16 in late September. Only No. 1 Notre Dame hung a lopsided defeat on the Spartans, winning 20-3 in their showdown in mid-September.

What Michigan State must do to win

The Spartans' offensive line will need to show improvement, giving Maxwell protection while also opening up running lanes for Bell. If the defensive front four can provide more pressure than it showed during the season, look for Narduzzi to release linebacker Denicos Allen and bring up the secondary to blitz at any given time to put pressure on TCU's freshman quarterback, Trevone Boykin.

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