Rod Beard: The Spartans long have awaited their place in the sun — and now they have it. They're beyond the Michigan comparisons and can truly vault themselves among the elite programs in the country by beating Alabama. If Connor Cook is back to normal and the secondary can get stops, MSU has a chance. This year has been full of surprises — get ready for another one. Michigan State 24, Alabama 21

Matt Charboneau: While Michigan State might be the team that is new to the big stage, it's perfectly comfortable being told it has no chance to win. The Spartans have built their program proving people wrong, and they're in the same spot once again. Alabama has the best running back in the game and a talented front seven on defense, but Michigan State has been strong up front all season and should match up well. If Connor Cook is as healthy as he says, he could be the difference by making plays through the air against a suspect Alabama secondary. Michigan State 27, Alabama 24

Angelique S. Chengelis: Have heard all the talk about Alabama's defense wanting to "feast" on Connor Cook, but the Spartans tough, healthy offensive line will have something to say about that. Clearly, Alabama is no pushover. Nor is Michigan State. The Spartans' defense must stop a Heisman Trophy-winning running back, but the difference will be Cook and the MSU offensive line, just as was the case in the Big Ten championship game. That was a defining moment, a springboard into these playoffs and Michigan State will prevail. Michigan State 17, Alabama 14

David Goricki: The last time these teams played in a bowl game, Alabama dominated on both sides of the line of scrimmage. This time around, the Spartans will have the upper hand, led by All-American center Jack Allen on one side of the ball, and Malik McDowell and Shilique Calhoun on the other. Michigan State 27, Alabama 21

Lynn Henning: Alabama simply has too much. Of everything. Particularly up front, and particularly on the part of playmakers and game-breakers. The Spartans have played marvelously against teams of skill and strength. 'Bama, though, has way too much of each. Alabama 31, Michigan State 10

Josh Katzenstein: Despite what some might say, the Spartans have a chance in this game for two reasons: A strong defense and superior quarterback play. Unfortunately, Alabama's defense is so good that it could neutralize any advantage Michigan State has, and running will be nearly impossible, which will make it hard for Connor Cook. Alabama 34, Michigan State 31

Ted Kulfan: The victories over Ohio State and Iowa at the end of the season were truly impressive in how the Spartans won, showing admirable character, guts and determination. MSU appears to be one of those "hot" teams entering the playoffs that other teams would be wise to stay away from. Alabama wasn't lucky enough to stay away. Michigan State 21, Alabama 17

John Niyo: The Spartans need some big plays in the passing game, and they'll need them early if they're going to keep Alabama's deep, talented front seven at arm's length. More than that, though, they'll need to force a first-half turnover or two to force the Tide to play catchup. If not, they'll get a healthy dose of Derrick Henry all night long. Alabama 27, Michigan State 21

Tony Paul: The world says take Alabama, but my gut says Michigan State has grown exponentially since that whipping in the Capital One Bowl five years ago. That also happens to be its last bowl loss. The Spartans have proven they can stop an excellent rusher, and Connor Cook is easily the best quarterback the Tide will have seen this year. All that adds up to a nailbiter, but a Sparty Party. Michigan State 35, Alabama 31

Bob Wojnowski: It's strength on strength, trench on trench, nothing fancy about it. Michigan State can slug with anyone, and Connor Cook can take a blow and deliver a bolt with the best. That's good, because Alabama's defense is the best, dominant at every level. The Spartans will slow Heisman winner Derrick Henry and keep it close, even close enough to win. But the Crimson Tide's deep, fierce defensive front will wear them down. Alabama 24, Michigan State 16