WHO: No. 5 Baylor vs. No. 8 Michigan State
WHAT: The 79th Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic
WHEN: 12:3o p.m. ET on Jan. 1 (ESPN)
WHERE: AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas
THE SKINNY: He’s officially the head coach at the University of Pittsburgh by now but Pat Narduzzi will serve one last game as Michigan State’s defensive coordinator, joking that he wouldn’t have accepted the job had he not received permission to coach this game. It’s “unfinished business,” as he called it.
Unfortunately for Narduzzi, there’s a high chance it may not go very well for him. Yes, the Spartans rank sixth nationally in total defense, 21st in yards per play allowed and 14th in scoring defense, but have you checked their schedule? Michigan State dominated the decent, mediocre and bad offenses it faced this season, and got boat-raced by the really good ones. We’re talking 46 points, nearly 500 yards and 7.22 yards per play against Oregon and 49 points, 568 total yard and 8.48 yards per play in a loss to Ohio State. Baylor has much more in common with the Ducks and Buckeyes than, say, Maryland. The Bears lead FBS in scoring and total offense for the second year in a row – though they do rank one spot behind Michigan State in yards per play.
As strange as it sounds, if Michigan State wins this game it may be because they out-scored Baylor. The Bears ranked a solid 39th in scoring defense and 33rd in yards per play allowed, but Connor Cook, Jeremy Langford and Tony Lippett should have their opportunities.
Since we’ve thrown out why Michigan State won’t win, here’s some shade on why Baylor won’t win to even things out: how sure are we that Baylor is any good? Sure, the Bears could probably beat the Houston Texans if they got to play them in Waco, but what has this program done outside of the city limits in the past two years? The Oklahoma win was impressive, sure. But outside of that, there’s the loss to West Virginia this season, the blowout loss at Oklahoma State last year, and then the Fiesta Bowl loss to Central Florida last New Year’s Day. AT&T Stadium may feel an awful lot like home by kickoff, but it’s not McLane Stadium.
In the end, this game boils down to how much Baylor’s other receivers show up. Kurtis Drummond figures to go mano-y-mano on K.D. Cannon, so what kind of damage can Bryce Petty inflict with Antwan Goodley, Jay Lee, Corey Coleman and company?
THE PICK: Baylor 45, Michigan State 37