No. 3 Michigan State (12-1) vs. No. 2 Alabama (12-1) at Arlington, Texas, Thursday, 8 p.m. (ESPN)
Line: Alabama by 10.
Series record: Alabama 1-0.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
A trip to Arizona to play for the national championship on Jan. 11. Alabama is trying to erase the memory of last season’s College Football Playoff semifinal loss to Ohio State. The Tide was about a 10-point favorite in that game against the Big Ten champions, too. Michigan State is looking for its third straight major bowl victory after winning the Rose and Cotton to end the last two seasons.
Michigan State NT Malik McDowell vs. Alabama C Ryan Kelly. McDowell is a sophomore and the only player on the Michigan State roster who was a consensus five-star recruit. He does not have a typical nose tackle build at 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds, but he is quick off the ball and powerful. Kelly was the Remington Award winner as the best center in the nation and a second-team AP All-American. The Crimson Tide wants to run big TB Derrick Henry between the tackles. How successful Alabama is will depend a lot on how Kelly handles McDowell.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Michigan State: QB Connor Cook. An All-Big Ten pick and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award winner as the top senior quarterback in the nation, Cook has passed for 2,921 yards and 24 touchdowns this season. He also missed the Ohio State game in November with a late-season right shoulder injury. He says it’s 100 percent.
Alabama: The Crimson Tide defensive linemen. All 11 of them that rotate in and out of the game. All-America DE A’Shawn Robinson might be the best of the bunch. Or maybe it is DE Jarran Reed? Or DE Jonathan Allen? Or NTs Darren Lake and Da’Ron Payne? Or pass-rush specialists Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson?
FACTS & FIGURES
The Alabama offensive line won the first Joe Moore Award, given to the top line in the country … Michigan State is 7-1 in its last eight games against teams ranked in the AP top 10, including 6-1 since 2013 and 3-0 this season. … Alabama is 20-7 against the AP top-10 since 2007, when Nick Saban took over as coach. … Since 2010, Saban leads all FBS coaches with 70 victories. Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio is third with 65. … Spartans WR Aaron Burbridge was named the Big Ten’s receiver of the year. He had 1,219 yards receiving on 80 catches with seven touchdowns. … Alabama freshman Calvin Ridley leads the Tide with 75 catches for 893 yards.
AP College Football website: http://www.collegefootball.ap.org