1. Which defense will make the biggest statement?
The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl will provide a matchup of two highly touted defenses. The Big Ten-leading Spartans will square off with the Big 12’s leader in TCU. Michigan State finds itself ranked fourth in the nation in total yardage allowed, and ninth in the country in points allowed, making them the best statistical defense the Frogs have faced this season. TCU’s 2012 resume includes an average of 332 yards allowed per game and impressive performances against explosive Big 12 offenses. The Horned Frog defensive unit will be a challenge for a less than stellar scoring offense in Michigan State, who averages 20.3 points per game. Saturday’s game will give each stalwart defense a chance to shine in a national spotlight.
2. Can the Horned Frogs contain Le’Veon Bell?
Oklahoma has claimed the nickname “The Bell-Dozer” for backup quarterback and short-yardage specialist Blake Bell, but the Spartan running back would do the nickname justice. Bell is one of the biggest and most powerful runningbacks TCU will have faced in 2012, measuring in at 6-foot-2, 244 lbs. The Horned Frogs faced size in the backfield against Texas, which has a group of power runningbacks, but they have not seen a back that is a workhorse like Bell. The junior has carried the ball 350 times this season for 1,648 yards and 11 touchdowns. TCU head coach Gary Patterson acknowledged that Bell is an NFL-caliber talent, but said stopping big-time players is a challenge the Frogs have faced several times. Nonetheless, Bell is the centerpiece of the Spartan offensive attack, and will certainly provide a challenge for the Big 12’s leading run defense in TCU.
3. Will the 28 days between games result in rest or rust?
TCU played some of its best football after longer layoffs between games. With ten days off before the Thanksgiving Day game against the Longhorns, TCU jumped out to a fast start and never looked back. The following week, the Frogs took the No. 11 ranked Sooners down to the final play in an energized performance. The Spartans had a two-week layoff between games in November, and responded with a three-point loss to Northwestern. The time off makes scheduling practices part of the strategy, and that could mean the right amount of rest for a team to play well-rounded football, or it could translate to a slow start after almost a month away from a game environment.
4. Which team will perform better in crunch time?
The answer to this question could also come down to which team makes the fewest mistakes throughout the game. The Spartans enter the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl with a pedestrian 6-6 record, but are no stranger to tight contests. Eight games (three wins and five losses) have had a margin of four points or less for Michigan State. TCU has had five games decided by eight points or less, including the triple overtime thriller against Texas Tech and a double overtime win in Morgantown. It shouldn’t come as a surprise if Saturday’s matchup in the desert comes down to the wire, and this is a game in which one or two “clutch” plays could make all the difference.
5. How well will both schools travel for the game?
Two years ago, a good percentage of the Rose Bowl was blanketed with purple for the biggest game in TCU history. The stadium was packed with 95,000 fans to watch the Frogs take on Wisconsin. Last year, however, the Horned Frogs played in front of only 24,604 people in the Poinsettia Bowl. Sun Devil Stadium is another 1,000-mile trek from the DFW metroplex, and almost 2,000 miles from Michigan State. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, a source at TCU reported sales of close to 6,000 of the 11,000 tickets given to the university. Fans can also purchase tickets from outside ticket vendors. It will be interesting to see the turnout for the Frogs’ first bowl game as a Big 12 Conference representative, and an enthusiastic crowd could make a difference for either team in what could be a close game.
6. Will the results of the wing-eating contest translate to the field on Saturday?
While this question does not relate directly to the x’s and o’s of football, it must be noted that the two teams consumed 7,330 wings in a Buffalo Wild Wings wing-eating contest on Dec. 26. The Spartans prevailed in the first showdown between the two squads, averaging 33 wings per player, compared to 20 wings per Horned Frog. MSU’s Shawn Kamm reportedly downed 65 wings, and TCU’s Michael Thompson ate 50. Saturday will be the first bowl game to show whether the ability to eat chicken wings translates to the field. Although, the teams would likely argue a mix-up of correlation and causality.