Valero Alamo Bowl preview

January, 1, 2010
1/01/10
10:25
AM ET
It will be the “Dysfunction Bowl” Saturday night at the Valero Alamo Bowl when Texas Tech (8-4) minus former head coach Mike Leach faces Michigan State (6-6), which will be missing 14 suspended players. Here’s a look at the game, which has been overshadowed by all of the off-the-field controversy for both teams.

WHO TO WATCH: Ruffin McNeill, Texas Tech’s interim head coach

The most scrutiny at the Alamodome will be reserved for McNeill, who will be replacing Leach in his first opportunity as a head college football coach. McNeill has been responsible for a dramatic improvement in the Red Raiders’ defense since taking over as coordinator during the 2007 season. He’s helped orchestrate a fearsome pass rush that ranks second nationally with 39 sacks. And he’s a popular figure among the players who is the ideal choice to settle the discord of earlier this week. A big performance by his team could gain him traction in his bid to become the permanent head coach. If the Red Raiders play well Saturday night it will serve as his best selling point.

WHAT TO WATCH: How much will the Red Raiders be different without Leach on the sidelines?

No program gained more of an identity from its head coach than Tech. Leach helped transform the Red Raiders into a consistent Big 12 power with a high-powered passing attack and unconventional coaching ploys like forgoing punts in unconventional situations and calling timeouts like a basketball coach to alter game momentum. It will be interesting to see if that changes with McNeill in charge. He’s more of a traditional, old-school leader who has helped the team’s development with a strong defensive attitude. And he’s also a former special-teams coach who has an appreciation for that phase of the game -- perhaps more so than Leach. Without their former head coach, look for the Red Raiders to lean toward a more typical game strategy. It might be a little unsettling for Tech and probably more boring, but should help their chances to win.

WHY WATCH: Texas Tech’s reaction once it hits the field

The Mike Leach era is over after his messy divorce earlier this week. But his former team still has to pick up the pieces and play in a bowl game that could be a motivational challenge. Will Tech fans have any signs of support for Leach inside the stadium? And how much focus will the team bring to a game against a Michigan State team that has been overshadowed by all of the drama that has enveloped the game?

PREDICTION: Texas Tech will have to regroup quickly after Leach’s firing. But the Red Raiders come into this game with a big advantage. Their high-powered offensive attack would appear to be ideally suited to take advantage of a leaky Michigan State defense that surrendered at least 500 yards of total offense in three of its last four games, ranked 103rd nationally in pass defense and had the nation’s worst touchdown pass-to-interception ratio (29 touchdown passes allowed/five interceptions). And that was before the Spartans lost 14 players to suspension before arriving in San Antonio. All of that means that Taylor Potts and Tech’s high-powered passing attack should be able to feast on the Spartans’ sputtering pass defense, no matter who is calling the plays. Prediction: Texas Tech 31, Michigan State 17.

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