As the bowl season approaches, we're going to be looking a little closer at each game. We'll go down the Big 12 bowl schedule in chronological order.
BUFFALO WILD WINGS BOWL
TCU (7-5) vs. Michigan State (6-6)
Where: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
When: Saturday, Dec. 29, 10:15 p.m. ET
About TCU: The Frogs have been through more in the past year than any team in the Big 12, dealing with the losses of impact players like quarterback Casey Pachall (left team to seek drug/alcohol treatment) and Waymon James (knee injury). Still, they've held it together and grabbed the best win of their season on the road on Thanksgiving night with a physical win over Big 12 power Texas. A 4-0 start had TCU ascending into the top 15, but the loss of Pachall left the offense in the hands of redshirt freshman Trevone Boykin, who's turned in an admirable effort, but ultimately, the Frogs have gone as far as the defense will take them this season.
About Michigan State: Michigan State lost four of its final six games, but one of those wins came against Big Ten champion Wisconsin on the road. That was the end of what looked like a promising season for the Spartans, picked by many to win the league. Its first three losses in Big 12 play came by a combined five points, and its next two came by just a combined seven points. The Spartans are very likely better than their record, but there's no hiding from the disappointment of a 6-6 regular season in a weak Big Ten after coach Mark Dantonio had guided MSU to consecutive 11-win seasons entering 2012.
Horned Frogs to watch: We already told you TCU's defense makes this team run, so keep your eyes on the unit's two biggest talents. It starts with DE Devonte Fields up front and CB Jason Verrett in the secondary. Michigan State's a running team, so Fields may get more action, but he'll be ready. He's more of a pass rusher, but the true freshman earned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors from the media. Verrett was the Big 12's best shutdown corner, but offensively, Josh Boyce and Brandon Carter are almost as good as any receivers in the league. Boykin's been effective with his arm and legs, but if MSU doesn't cover Boyce and Carter well, you'll see a big day through the air. Boykin's hit both on big plays down the field against Oklahoma and West Virginia this season. The Frogs will certainly try to stretch the field in this one.
Spartans to watch: Michigan State's offense begins and ends with running back Le'Veon Bell. TCU will get to know the 244-pound workhorse -- he even inspired some early season Heisman buzz -- very well by the game's end. He's carried the ball at least 29 times in seven games this season, and logged 350 carries on the season. That's the most in the nation, and no back in the Big 12 carried the ball more than 257 times. The Spartans also have five receivers with at least 340 yards receiving, but defensively, TCU's offensive line will have to focus lots of energy on star defensive lineman William Gholston. He's got 12 tackles for loss this season and has broken up nine passes.
Did you know? This isn't a new bowl game, it's just a new sponsor. The Big 12 has had a long-standing relationship with the Insight (previously Insight.com) Bowl, sending a team every year since 2006 and every year but four since the Big 12's inception. This year, the bowl just welcomes a new sponsor. The most eye-opening stat for TCU this season? It's played 16 true freshmen this season ... and 11 seniors.