Even though it may appear that the Spartans have more to play for than the Crimson Tide, don't expect the Tide to come unprepared.
Think about it, had 'Bama given up on its season after being upset by South Carolina, would it have gone on to finish with a 9-3 record?
Definitely not in the SEC, and not to mention the Tide almost upset rival Auburn in the Iron Bowl.
If Alabama is playing for anything, pride would have to be the reason. If there's anything that will "will" you to play, pride is that intangible.
As for Sparty, they will be motivated to gain respect for not only themselves, but their conference as well. That is not going to be enough to defeat the Tide, however.
Therefore, this Top 10 countdown of the keys to the game for Michigan State should prepare you the fan as well.
Field position and field goals...either way Michigan State has the edge when it comes to kicking and punting.
And their consistency must continue to keep special teams in the favor of Sparty.
Senior punter Aaron Bates currently ranks third in the Big Ten in total punting yards (2,261) and first with a 45.2-yard average.
In addition, sophomore kicker Dan Conroy ranks fifth in the NCAA with a 93.3 field goal percentage, including a long of 50 yards.
As for the Crimson Tide, their kicking and punting is not where coach Nick Saban would like it.
Even though he's only a freshman, 'Bama punter Cody Mandell ranks 10th in the SEC in total punting yards (1,528) and 11th in yards per punt (39.2).
However, the kicking game is a little better with sophomore Jeremy Shelley.
He has missed four field goals on the year ranking him seventh in the SEC with a field-goal percentage of 75, but does rank fourth with a extra-point percentage of 97.7.
Whether it's field position or an automatic kicking game, the Spartans have the advantage, so don't be surprised if Saban tries to sneak in a fake field goal or punt.
Keshawn Martin acts as the primary return man for Michigan State, whether it's punts or kickoffs. In terms of kickoff returns, Martin has not made too much of an impact compared to his Big Ten counterparts.
However, as a punt returner, he has bottle-rocket capabilities. (Side note: "Bottle Rocket" is a great movie featuring Luke and Owen Wilson from the mid-1990s...nostalgia anyone?)
Second in the Big Ten in punt return yards and average per return, Martin ranks first in TDs and longest return.
As for Alabama, RB Trent Richardson is the premiere kickoff returner, averaging 25.7 yards per return (fourth in the SEC) and has totaled 616 yards (seventh in the SEC) with one TD.
Complimenting Richardson is WR Marquis Maze as the punt returner.
Maze ranks third in the SEC with 245 punt return yards and fourth with an 8.8 yards per return average. However, his longest return on the year is only 37 yards.
Keshawn Martin is Michigan State's wild card in this situation, because he can be a major advantage if Sparty's D limits Alabama's chances.
Easily quarterback Greg McElroy's favorite target with a team-leading 75 receptions (third in the SEC). The second most on the team is Marquis Maze with only 34 on the year.
Also, Mr. Jones (and me...Counting Crows, anyone?) ranks second in the SEC with 1,084 yards and is the only wideout on the team with over 1,000 yards receiving.
In addition he has accounted for seven of McElroy's 19 TD passes, which ties him for fifth in the SEC.
A first-team all-SEC selection, Jones is only a junior so look for him be in the Fred Biletnikoff Award race come 2011 if he chooses his senior season over the NFL.
As good as Sparty has been as a secondary unit all season, Jones will arguably be the best receiver they have faced. They cannot use man coverage, but double coverage with man-under and a safety helping over top as a solid alternative.
Also, pressure on McElroy will be key (more on that later), so the D-line and blitz packages need to be effective.
You may not know him now unless you're a hard-core SEC fan, but there's a good chance you will after the Captial One Bowl.
Alabama CB Robert Lester leads the SEC this season with seven picks (third in all of college football) and received second-team all-SEC honors.
And get this: he's a freaking sophomore.
I'm sure he's not the first of his kind, but someone this young and playing this well (especially in the SEC) deserves national recognition.
Therefore, when Michigan State's top two receivers (Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham) are on his island, you may see quarterback Kirk Cousins look elsewhere.
But Dell and Cunningham also have experience and will be the Spartans' best option versus Lester.
In order to manipulate Lester, don't be surprised to see Dell and Cunningham lined up in twins on Lester's half of the field. Possible route combinations of ins, slants, outs and wheels will be typical, but the difference will be the chemistry between Dell and Cunningham.
Late breaks on the routes could be used to disguise the pass patterns, as well as some pick routes to remove Lester from any chance of an interception or a pass break-up.
The main Brahma Bull for the Spartans, Edwin Baker actually has a baker's dozen (13) in TDs.
Almost 1,200 yards rushing on the year at over six yards per carry, Baker has solidified himself among his Big Ten running back colleagues as arguably the best ground warrior in the conference.
However, Alabama's nationally Top 10 ranked defense will be a significant challenge. The Tide only gives up an average of 4.77 yards per play and 296 yards per game (123 on the ground).
For Baker to succeed, there will need to be a continuation of Sparty's well-balanced attack that got them to their current 11-1 record.
There's no need for draws and screens with Baker; pound the rock with him. He's a bulldozer that needs to be used like one—period.
The quarterback is definitely improved from a year ago, especially in completion percentage, up 7.1 from 2009. But in his last four games, Cousins has thrown five picks.
I know three came against Iowa, but that was what significantly exposed Mr. Cousins.
Alabama has a much better defense than Iowa, and if three picks are thrown (let alone three turnovers), the Spartan O will be at the mercy of their defensive teammates.
However, Cousins must not be conservative because that's what could be his Achilles' heel. When given the opportunity, he must strike the Alabama D like he's slamming down the hammer of Thor.
And when handing the rock off to Edwin Baker, carrying out the fakes will be key in keeping the Tide D honest.
Throughout the season, defensive coordinators have had success in getting to Greg McElroy.
In being sacked 30 times through 12 games, you would think Alabama's passing game would be a bit lackluster. But don't let the sack stat alone deceive you; McElroy has only thrown five picks on the year with 19 TDs.
In addition, he is ranked fifth in the SEC with 2,767 passing yards and fourth in all of college football with a 70.6 completion percentage.
Obviously pressure on McElroy is imperative; however, if Sparty is only able to force QB hits, then it will be a long day.
A vast array of blitzes from the backers and secondary to cause confusion and/or audibles will be needed as well as a stunt package from the D-line.
Twists, crashes to the right and left, and pinching inward with outside blitzes would help. And even dropping a D-lineman into coverage while blitzing a backer could cause some issues.
Getting McElroy frustrated will not be easy, but it is a definite necessity.
Who has the better rush defense? I'm guessing that's the topic of discussion amongst the Alabama defenders in the picture.
Michigan State ranks No. 21 in rush defense, one spot ahead of Alabama.
The ironic thing is both teams have faced the exact same number of rushing attempts on the year (407).
Don't believe me? Check out this link: http://content.usatoday.com/sportsdata/football/ncaaf/stats/team-rushing-defense
So Sparty one-ups 'Bama in allowing only 121 yards per game, while the Tide allows 123 per game. Big whoop, right? Wrong.
I know two measly yards may not seem like they matter, but the game is always won in the trenches.
Why is this important? Well, I've already discussed Sparty's Edwin Baker, but Bama's Mark Ingram has yet be mentioned until now.
Although this has been a down year, the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner this year still produced, averaging 5.6 yards per carry with 11 TDs.
Not to mention he earned second-team All-SEC this year.
Virtually identical in rush offense and rush defense, whichever team has more success in stopping the run will gain the "open playbook" advantage.
Mark Dantonio is the 2010 Big Ten Dave McClain Coach of the Year Award winner. In the eyes of college football critics, his team may still have to prove themselves, but he doesn't.
After turning around a major college football program and setting a new school record for wins in a season, Dantonio has solidified himself amongst the best in Spartan history.
Add in the health issues that he endured throughout the season, and it only raises the level of his toughness, dedication and love for coaching.
Plus, Dantonio and Saban go back to when they coached the Spartan secondary together from 1995-1999. So in hindsight, this game has some additional stakes between the head coaches.
And based on Saban's accomplishments (national championships in 2003 and 2009), you know Dantonio is aching to outdo his former colleague.
The nucleus and leader of the Michigan State Spartans has been Greg Jones.
I love defense, and when you see someone like No. 53 play with his level of passion, you feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience it.
A 2009 and 2010 first-team all-Big Ten selection at linebacker, Jones' intangible attributes are really the more impressive aspect. His leadership, intelligence, coachability and desire are things you can't teach or coach.
He's like having a defensive coordinator on the field, which is a major advantage.
And, if you have yet to watch Greg Jones play football, you may want to treat yourself and tune in.
Because the NFL awaits and his last game as a collegiate athlete will be his toughest challenge yet, so expect him to come with another level of game.
10. The Password Is "Field"
9. The Return Game
8. Isolating Julio Jones
7. Robert Lester vs. Spartan WRs
6. Edwin "Baker's Dozen" (pun intended)
5. The Cognitivity of Kirk Cousins
4. Pressuring Greg McElroy
3. Who Has the better Rush D?
2. Mark Dantonio
1. 2010 Michigan State Football MVP: Greg Jones