NCF Nation: Wings Bowl 2012

A closer look: Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

December, 17, 2012
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.


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 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.

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

December, 2, 2012
TCU Horned Frogs (7-5) vs. Michigan State Spartans (6-6)

Dec. 29, 10:15 p.m. ET, Tempe, Ariz. (ESPN)

TCU take by Big 12 blogger David Ubben: The Horned Frogs brought a new style of football in their first year in the Big 12, forcing the rest of the league to get used to more low-scoring games decided in the running game. The Frogs won four games this year with 27 points or less and scored fewer than 20 points in two more, while holding opponents to less than 30. The Frogs season turned when it lost Casey Pachall, who left school to seek treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, forcing redshirt freshman Trevone Boykin to learn on the job. He’s been up and down, but the Frogs live to run the ball and play defense.

They’ll face a Michigan State team which loves to do the exact same. Expect another game won by the team that wins the line of scrimmage and the time of possession battle. The Spartans are fourth nationally in total defense, and the Frogs led the Big 12 in the stat by more than 35 yards per game.

TCU clinched its eighth consecutive bowl bid with a banged-up season in the Big 12, playing with a team that was made up of 70 percent freshmen and sophomores, by far the youngest team coach Gary Patterson had ever fielded. Still, in their first year in a tougher league, the Horned Frogs finished tied for fifth and won seven games despite missing more than 20 players that it expected to have when 2011 ended. Top running back Waymon James suffered a season-ending knee injury, leaving Matthew Tucker as the lone returnee from a trio of running backs that rushed for at least 700 yards last season. Ed Wesley left the team and entered the NFL supplemental draft after spring practice. It was a season full of difficult circumstances for the Frogs, but they perservered and will try to get a jump on a promising 2013 season with a win in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

Michigan State take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: The bar had been raised for Michigan State entering the fall after the Spartans recorded a team-record 11 victories in each of the past two seasons. Many pegged Mark Dantonio’s squad to reach its first Rose Bowl in a quarter-century and continue to establish itself as a new power in the Big Ten. Things didn’t work out that way, as the Spartans repeatedly came up short, struggled at home and needed a Week 13 win just to become bowl-eligible for the sixth straight year, a team record.

A talent-stocked Spartans defense did its part, finishing in the top 10 nationally in total defense (fourth), scoring defense (10th), rushing defense (eighth) and pass defense (ninth). Middle linebacker Max Bullough and cornerback Darqueze Dennard are among the standouts on a unit that allowed fewer than 20 points in eight games.

Most of Michigan State’s problems came on offense, as the Spartans struggled to replace quarterback Kirk Cousins and his top three receivers. Junior signal caller Andrew Maxwell had mixed results in his first year as the starter, and while a young receiving corps improved, there was little continuity in the pass game. Running back Le'Veon Bell did his share, taking the ball more times (350) than any other FBS player and recording 1,648 yards and 11 touchdowns. But the unit struggled to turn yards into points and lost five Big Ten games by a total of 13 points, including all four conference contests at home.

Bowl practices should help the young offense, but Michigan State’s defense likely will need a big effort against TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl to secure the team’s second straight postseason win.