Cotton Bowl: Alabama vs Michigan State
In this battle of the middle seeds of the 4 team playoff, let's take a look to see if any team has enough matchup advantages to warrant a wager. ALA's run game with Henry is, of course, good (my 8th ranked), but they haven't been as dominant as you might think. They opened the season strong in their first few games but since then they've only had 3 "best" games vs. 2 "worst." Those best games all came against the less highly ranked run defenses they faced over that stretch, as well. They weren't poor run defenses, with the average rank still being a little above average, but they didn't tear it up versus the good run defenses they played. But make no mistake, they still overall did pretty well against those defenses. MSU's rush defense was the more dominant unit down the stretch, and finished up the regular season ranked higher than ALA's run offense, at 4th. In 3 of their final 4 games they held top 30 running games to an average of 2.5 yards less per carry than those teams usually gain. My projections say ALA will average a fairly modest 4.0 ypc, when it's all added up. That's still a far cry better than MSU rates to gain on the ground. ALA has the clear #1 best run defense, and they had 11 "best" games of it in 12 FBS games this season. It's so hard to get anything going against them -- only two teams rushed for more than 100 yards against them this season, Georgia and Tennessee, both top 20 running games. MSU comes into this contest ranked 77th, but on an upward trend as they battled some injuries mid-season. In their final 5 games against rush defenses with an average rank of 28.8 they ran for 0.4 yards more per carry than those teams usually allow. So 3 yards and a cloud of dust with some moving of the sticks should happen now and then for the Spartans. Well, maybe 2.5 yards and a cloud of dust, lol. ALA QB Coker had a couple of poor games in the first month of the season, but since than has actually been pretty solid. ALA has faced a really tough schedule of pass defenses (6th toughest) and they've still managed to have 4 "best" vs. 0 "worst" games of pass offense from week 5 on. MSU's pass defense is pretty good (24th), but ALA has had success against higher ranked units than that. ALA's pass defense started off the season very strong, with 5 "best" games vs one "worst" game -- the loss to Ole Miss where the Rebels scored on two long TD passes -- one a tipped ball lucky play and the other a busted coverage on a last second pop pass. Since then, though, they've only been just a little better than average, with no "best" or "worst" games in their final 6 FBS games. MSU's pass game is down this year, but they're going to have to get something going in the air to have any chance of winning this game. I liked the Under 49 when it opened, not so much now at 47, and the line of ALA -9.5 is almost right on my number. I for one will be cheering for a boring puntfest, lol.
Recommended investment 1% on the Under 49 when the lines opened.