The 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl pits the TCU Horned Frogs against the Michigan State Spartans, two teams who underachieved after triumphant 2011 campaigns.
Despite massive offensive turnover, Michigan State (6-6) was projected as a serious Rose Bowl threat. The offense never coalesced, however, failing to overcome the losses of Kirk Cousins, B.J. Cunningham and KeShawn Martin. They struggled in close games all season, and needed a late-November win over Minnesota to even become bowl eligible.
TCU (7-5) went 11-2 in 2011, winning the Mountain West during its final season with the conference. The team's transition to the Big 12 wasn't disappointing by any means, but it was certainly rocky. They went 4-5 in conference play, failing to win consecutive games against Big 12 opponents.
This Saturday, both teams get a chance to carry momentum into 2013. Here are three matchups that will determine who comes out on top:
OT Dan France vs. DE Devonte Fields
Dan France, a former defensive lineman, has stepped in admirably at tackle for the Spartans. He hasn't set the world on fire by any stretch of the imagination, but he's been serviceable.
Against Devonte Fields, however, serviceable won't be good enough.
Fields, a freshman sensation from Arlington, dominated the Big 12 this season, earning First-Team All-Conference honors.
He finished the year with nine sacks and an interception. And those impressive numbers only scratch the surface of his relentless impact.
Michigan State's passing game has struggled this season regardless. If Andrew Maxwell doesn't have time to pass, those struggles could be exacerbated on a national stage.
WR Josh Boyce vs. CB Darqueze Dennard
Josh Boyce has had a wonderful season, and career, for the Horned Frogs. In 2012, he led the team with 61 catches, 800 yards and seven touchdowns.
The 6'0" junior is a borderline NFL draft prospect, a lot of his stock likely depending on how he fares in this game.
Michigan State's best defensive player, cornerback Johnny Adams, will likely miss the game with turf toe. In a vacuum, that would seem to be auspicious for Boyce. However, Michigan State has another All-Big Ten cornerback in Darqueze Dennard, who will be counted on to slow Boyce down.
This will be one of the most interesting battles of the day, between two of the soundest players in college football.
RB Le'Veon Bell vs. LB Kenny Cain
The degree to which Michigan State relies on Le'Veon Bell is too big for words. Numbers do it much better justice.
Michigan State ranks 74th in the nation with 151.6 rushing yards per game. This in spite of the fact that Bell ranks seventh in the nation with 1,648 total rushing yards. That's 137.3 per game.
As in, the rest of the team rushes for just 14 yards per game.
If Michigan State wins this game, its defense will need to be the deciding factor. But the offense will have to provide in spurts, too. Bell is their best, and often their only, hope of doing just that.
TCU linebacker Kenny Cain will be counted on to stop Bell between the tackles, a difficult task that he just might be up for. The senior stalwart was voted to the All-Big-12 Second Team, finishing the year with nearly 70 total tackles.