NCF Nation: Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl keys 2012

TCU keys in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

December, 29, 2012
12/29/12
12:30
PM ET
Let's take a look at three keys for TCU in today's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

1. Be patient, young ones. TCU's offense hasn't been real effective after losing Casey Pachall, with a couple exceptions. However, they love to run the ball with B.J. Catalon and Matthew Tucker. Trevone Boykin provides another weapon with his legs at quarterback. The Frogs have had a lot of effectiveness working that scheme and then beating teams over the top. They may have to do that with Michigan State, who should be one of the better rush defenses (rank eighth nationally) TCU sees this year. Finding the right time for that big play and hitting it could be the difference in what should be a low-scoring game.

2. Wrap up, wrap up, wrap up. If you didn't already know, the first five minutes of tonight's game will make it very, very obvious: They simply do not make backs like Le'Veon Bell in the Big 12. The 250-pounder runs hard and leads the nation in yards after contact. He can also hurdle you with little hesitation. You cannot arm tackle this man, no matter how hard you try or how much you believe you can. TCU's got to be disciplined tacklers and swarm to him when he's got the ball, otherwise he's going for 200 and TCU's not winning this game.

3. Keep making big plays defensively. TCU kept itself in the game with a pair of defensive plays in the loss to OU, and the offense is likely going to have a tough night against the Spartans. Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell has multiple interceptions in his last two games after throwing two picks in his previous nine games. TCU, meanwhile, are fourth nationally with 21 interceptions this season. MSU won't chuck it around like Big 12 teams, but the Frogs' Jason Verrett, Sam Carter and Elisha Olabode have combined for 14 picks and could do some more thieving. I can't emphasize it enough: This game very likely will turn on a big play. TCU's defense may be just as likely to make it as the offense.

MSU keys in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

December, 29, 2012
12/29/12
12:30
PM ET
Three keys for Michigan State in tonight's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl matchup against TCU:

1. Balancing act: It has been the Le'Veon Bell show all season for Michigan State's offense, to the tune of a nation-leading 350 carries. The junior running back will be ready to be a workhorse again in what could be his final game in a Spartans uniform. But Michigan State needs to find other dimensions against a talented TCU defense to avoid the results we saw throughout the regular season. Junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell and his receivers have had more than a month to prepare and find the chemistry they had only in stretches this fall. It also would be nice to see offensive coordinator Dan Roushar open up the playbook a bit as the Spartans try to attack a TCU defense more vulnerable to the pass (52nd nationally) than the run (10th nationally). The Spartans really need more of a balanced offense to win this game.

2. Contain Boykin: This isn't a great TCU offense -- 60th in points per game and 63rd in yards per game -- but the Spartans have to pay close attention to quarterback Trevone Boykin. The freshman had some predictable ups and downs after taking over for Casey Pachall in early October, but he had some very big performances (Baylor, Texas Tech) and limited mistakes after his first three starts. Michigan State can't let Boykin get comfortable and needs a strong performance from its defensive front seven. Junior end William Gholston had a breakout game in last year's bowl win over Georgia (five tackles for loss, two sacks). After a somewhat disappointing season, can Gholston replicate his last postseason performance?

3. Special attention: The kicking game likely looms large in a game featuring two strong defenses and two inconsistent offenses. Michigan State likely has to win on special teams to emerge from the desert with a victory. Place-kicker Dan Conroy converted a Big Ten-leading 22 field goals this season, but he also had more misses (nine) and more attempts (31) than any other kicker in the league. Several of those misses really stung in close losses, so the Spartans likely need a flawless performance from Conroy against TCU. Michigan State also must limit Skye Dawson, who ranks 27th nationally in punt returns (10 yards per return) and 61st in kick returns (22.5 ypr) but has some trouble fielding kicks cleanly.

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