Preview: Michigan State at Alabama

When: 8:00 PM ET, Thursday, December 31, 2015
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas


1. Second-ranked Alabama is in the College Football Playoff semifinals for the second straight season as it faces third-ranked Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl on Dec. 31 at Arlington, Texas. The Crimson Tide were ousted by Ohio State in last season's semifinals and are again matched up against a Big Ten program. Only a one-point loss to Nebraska in early November prevented the Spartans from entering the playoffs with an unbeaten record while Alabama has won 10 straight games since losing to Ole Miss in mid-September.

2. Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook said his sprained throwing shoulder is improving and will be close to 100 percent New Year's Eve. Cook has a 34-4 career mark as a starter, has thrown a school-record 71 career touchdown passes and ranks second in passing yards (8,984) behind Kirk Cousins (9,131 from 2008-11). "I'm pretty much doing everything in practice now," Cook told reporters in mid-December. "I'm pretty confident."

3. Alabama junior running back Derrick Henry topped 100 yards nine times - and 200 on four occasions - while rushing for an SEC-record 1,986 yards to go with 23 touchdowns en route to winning the Heisman Trophy. The Spartans know they will be seeing a lot of Henry with the football as he carried it a combined 90 times over the Crimson Tide's last two games. "Whatever I have to do to help my team win," Henry told reporters. "I don't care how many carries it is. As long as it's successful and we've got the ball, I'm all for it."

TV: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Alabama -9.5

ABOUT MICHIGAN STATE (12-1, 7-1 Big Ten): Cook has completed 56.9 percent of his passes and been intercepted only five times and has a big-time target to work with in senior Aaron Burbridge, who has 1,219 yards and seven touchdowns on a school-record 80 receptions. Freshman LJ Scott rushed for a team-high 691 yards and 11 touchdowns and his last score was the biggest as he kept his legs churning on third-and-goal to score the decisive 1-yard touchdown to beat Iowa in the Big Ten title game. The Spartans allow 20.5 points per game with senior defensive end Shilique Calhoun (10.5 sacks) leading the way while sophomore nose tackle Malik McDowell (12 tackles for losses) and junior middle linebacker Riley Bullough (team-most 95 tackles) are also standout players.

ABOUT ALABAMA (12-1, 7-1 SEC):
Henry carries the offense and takes pressure off of senior quarterback Jake Coker, who has thrown for 2,489 yards and 17 touchdowns against eight interceptions. Freshman receiver Calvin Ridley emerged as a solid target with 75 receptions for 893 yards to help the Crimson Tide average 34.1 points and complement a defense that allows only 14.4 per game. Junior strong safety Eddie Jackson has a team-leading five interceptions - he has returned them for 230 yards and two touchdowns - while senior middle linebacker Reggie Ragland has recorded a team-high 90 tackles and junior defensive Jonathan Allen has a team-best 10 sacks.

PREDICTION: Michigan State 27, Alabama 23

Stats and Records

Team Comparison

  W/L Strk PF PA Home Away Grass Turf Conf
Michigan State 12-1 W4 32.1 20.5 7-0 5-1 7-0 0-0 8-1
Alabama 12-1 W10 34.1 14.4 8-1 4-0 10-1 0-0 8-1

Last Meeting

Michigan State Alabama
Date Away Home Tot Rus Pas Tot Rus Pas
1/1/11 MSU 7 ALA 49 171 -48 219 546 275 271

Player Stats

Previous Matchup
Passing Player COMP% YDS TD INT
MSU K. Cousins 55.6 120 0 1
ALA G. McElroy Jr. 76.5 220 1 0
Rushing Player CAR YDS AVG TD
MSU E. Baker 12 14 1.2 0
ALA E. Lacy 5 86 17.2 2
Receiving Player REC YDS AVG TD
MSU B. Fowler 2 56 28.0 1
ALA M. Maze 4 77 19.2 1
TDs Player TD
MSU B. Fowler 1
ALA M. Ingram 2
Passing Player COMP% YDS TD INT
MSU C. Cook 56.8 2911 24 5
ALA J. Coker 65.7 2489 17 8
Rushing Player CAR YDS AVG TD
MSU L. Scott 140 691 4.9 11
ALA D. Henry 339 1986 5.9 23
Receiving Player REC YDS AVG TD
MSU A. Burbridge 79 1209 15.3 7
ALA C. Ridley 75 893 11.9 5
TDs Player TD
MSU L. Scott 11
ALA D. Henry 23

Quickchart Matchup

Michigan State Off vs  Alabama Def
396.8 yards
258.1 yards
4 yards/rush
2.4 yards/rush
7.6 yards/attempt
5.9 yards/attempt
Alabama Off vs  Michigan State Def
422.5 yards
342.9 yards
4.8 yards/rush
3.6 yards/rush
7.1 yards/attempt
7.2 yards/attempt

Matchup Stats - Full Matchup

Michigan State Overall Alabama
12-1-0 W/L 12-1-0
5-7-1 ATS 7-6-0
6-7-0 O/U 5-8-0
32.1 Pts For 34.1
20.5 Pts Against 14.4
Michigan State A/H Alabama
5-1 W/L 8-1
2-3-1 ATS 3-6-0
3-3-0 O/U 4-5-0
27.7 Pts For 33.8
22.8 Pts Against 15.0
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