- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Let's take a quick look at the featured non-BCS bowl of New Year's Day, as co-Big Ten champion Michigan State takes on defending national champion Alabama.
WHO TO WATCH: Michigan State linebackers Greg Jones and Eric Gordon. Few linebacker tandems in Big Ten history have been as productive as Jones and Gordon, who have combined for 784 career tackles. The pair will be tested by Alabama standout running backs Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. Michigan State needs sound tackling and good angles from Nos. 53 and 43 to contain the Tide ground game.
WHAT TO WATCH: The Spartans' improved secondary against Alabama's receivers. Arguably no position group in the Big Ten made a bigger one-year turnaround than Michigan State's secondary, which helped the Spartans tie for 11th nationally in interceptions with 17. Michigan State's defensive backs will be tested by Alabama star wideout Julio Jones and solid No. 2 option Marquis Maze. Big plays from the secondary have fueled the Spartans' success this season, and Michigan State needs more of them in the bowl game.
WHY TO WATCH: There are plenty of reasons, including Alabama coach Nick Saban going up against his former team and his former assistant in Mark Dantonio. As Dantonio told me earlier this week, this is the chance for Michigan State to "measure up" to an elite opponent after getting snubbed from a BCS bowl. The Spartans have upgraded their program in recent years, but they're 0-3 in bowl games under Dantonio. This game provides an excellent opportunity to cap a special season.
PREDICTION: Alabama 27, Michigan State 23. I'm curious to see how motivated Alabama will be for the game, but the Tide still boast a bunch of talent on both sides of the ball. Michigan State will be ready and certainly could pull off the win, but Alabama's offense boasts too many weapons. It'll be close and entertaining, but Saban and the Tide win.