Cotton Bowl: Players to watch

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Malik McDowell (4)



When Michigan State last played Alabama in the 2011 Capital One Bowl, it got dominated at the line of scrimmage. But that team didn’t have the personnel this one does and a big difference-maker has been the sophomore tackle. At 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds, McDowell has been disrupting offenses all season by penetrating into the backfield for 12 tackles for loss, including 41/2 sacks. If he can have the same type of push against the Alabama offensive line, it could slow the Crimson Tide attack.


The fifth-year senior hasn’t played since the Big Ten opener against Purdue when he suffered a torn biceps muscle, but he’ll be back for this game and could be the wild card for the Michigan State defense. Demetrious Cox and Montae Nicholson  likely will start, but Williamson will get his share of snaps and has the experience of playing in games against some of the best teams in the country. He could be a calming effect if the defense gives up any big plays against the Alabama offense.


Quarterback Connor Cook  likely will have to have a big game for Michigan State to win, and it’s likely the Crimson Tide will put plenty of focus on receivers like Aaron Burbridge and Macgarrett Kings. But Price can be an effective weapon, especially in the red zone as his 16 career touchdowns are the most for a Michigan State tight end. Alabama’s most vulnerable position is in the secondary and there is a good chance Price can find some room to make plays down the middle of the field.

Kenyan Drake



Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry will get plenty of attention and he’ll carry the ball the bulk of the time for the Crimson Tide. But Drake, a senior, is the change-of-pace back who  can break a big play any time he touches the ball. He ran for 77 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries in a season-opening win over Wisconsin and has the versatility to catch the ball out of the backfield, grabbing five receptions for 91 yards and a score in a victory over Middle Tennessee State. Drake has been plagued by injuries over the past two years but is expected to be 100 percent by kickoff against the Spartans.


The junior is just one part of a talented defensive front, but he’s been the most effective pass rusher. Allen, who has started nine of 13 games this season, was named first-team All-SEC after recording a team-high 10 sacks and notching six quarterback hurries. Allen has had the ability to take over games this season, getting three sacks in the victory over Mississippi State and recording two each in wins over Wisconsin and Texas A&M.


The true freshman was a starter by the fourth game of the season and has become the top target for quarterback Jake Coker. Ridley leads the Crimson Tide with 75 catches for 893 yards and five touchdowns and was named All-SEC second team by the Associated Press. Ridley has the ability to break a game open with the big play, connecting with Coker for an 81-yard touchdown in a win over Arkansas, the same game Ridley set career-highs with nine catches for 140 yards.