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Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide will have another crack at beating a Big Ten team in the College Football Playoff semifinal when they face Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl on Thursday.
The SEC champion Crimson Tide, buoyed by Heisman Trophy honoree Derrick Henry at running back, are listed as 10-point favorites against the Big Ten champion Spartans at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The favorite has covered in six of the last nine Cotton Bowls.
Coach Mark Dantonio’s Spartans, who are 12-1 SU and 5-7-1 ATS, might have to rely on the senior passing combo of QB Connor Cook and WR Aaron Burbridge. Their mediocre rushing attack is pitted against the nation’s No. 1 run defense. Cook, Burbridge and fellow WR MacGarrett Kings Jr. and R.J. Shelton have held their own against four top-20 pass defenses in Big Ten play. The Spartans have allowed just 17 sacks.
Michigan State is 8-1-1 ATS in its last 10 games as an underdog. The Spartans’ defensive line, anchored by NT Malik McDowell and DE Shilique Calhoun, can also rip holes in blocking schemes. It might also play to Michigan State’s strength if Alabama’s attack continues to be run-heavy. The Spartans are the only team which has kept Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott to fewer than 100 yards.
The Crimson Tide, 12-1 SU and 7-6 ATS, lost to Ohio State in the inaugural CFP semifinal last season. Alabama has gone 4-1 ATS in its last five games while relying heavily on Henry. Senior QB Jake Coker works methodically, although his interception rate is twice as high as Cook’s. Coker’s three leading receivers, including true freshman Calvin Ridley, average fewer than 12 yards per catch.
Alabama can afford to live not very dangerously due to its dominant defense. The unit, which starts seven seniors including CB Cyrus Jones, MLB Reggie Ragland, and DE Jarran Reed, has accumulated 46 sacks and 16 INT. The Crimson Tide, who are 5-1 SU and ATS in their last six games against the Big Ten, could render the Spartans one-dimensional and force Cook to carry his team.
The total for Thursday’s Michigan State vs. Alabama betting matchup is set at 44.5 points at the sportsbooks. The total has gone OVER in four of Michigan State’s last five games after consecutive wins. The total has gone OVER in eight of Alabama’s last nine bowl games.