National predictions: Michigan State vs. Alabama
Writers from the nation's leading sports outlets predict the outcome of Thursday's Michigan State-Alabama game.
Steve Lassan, Athlon sports: The first thing that stands out in the Michigan State-Alabama matchup is the similarities between these two teams. Both programs want to establish the run, win the battle at the line of scrimmage and lean on their defense. Expect the Spartans to load the box and stop running back Derrick Henry, forcing quarterback Jake Coker to win this game with his arm. When Michigan State has the ball, Alabama wants to force the Spartans to take to the air in third-and-long situations and not control the battle at the line of scrimmage. The Crimson Tide has an edge in overall talent, but the Spartans can use the underdog and no respect angle as motivation. Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook makes several clutch throws to star receiver Aaron Burbridge to keep the Spartans in it, but Alabama has too much talent and its defense eventually puts the clamps on the Spartans in the second half to clinch a spot in the national championship. Alabama 27, Michigan State 20
Andy Stapler, SI: These two teams look fairly even, so a turnover or two could flip the result. Both teams could struggle early to gain yards on the ground, but don’t be shocked if each continues to pound the ball inside. Since the Tide shifted the emphasis of their offense to Henry following the loss to Ole Miss, Henry has found a way to break defenses. If Alabama’s defense can keep Cook in check, Henry may be able to break the dam late in the game. Alabama 19, Michigan State 16
Stewart Mandel, FOX Sports: Michigan State’s best hope is to force a couple of deep turnovers to create short-field drives. But it’s hard to predict that ahead of time. If anything, I expect Alabama’s defensive front to pressure Connor Cook into a couple of uncharacteristic mistakes, maybe even a pick-6. Jake Coker won’t have a huge day himself, but freshman receiver Calvin Ridley is only getting better. He and Henry combine for enough chunk plays to pull away in the second half. Alabama 27, Michigan State 16.
Bruce Feldman, FOX Sports: Connor Cook has played in a bunch of big games, and he's won many of them. He’s very talented. If he plays like a first-rounder, I think the Spartans win. But as good as I think Cook is, and as solid as Dantonio’s track record is against Top 5 teams, I just can’t pick against Nick Saban, that D-line and Heisman-winning running back Derrick Henry. Alabama 23, Michigan State 20
Charles Hollis, Alabama.com: The best way to describe the Spartans' defensive seven is to compare them to Alabama's without the depth. Derrick Henry isn't likely to go off for 150 yards, but State isn't likely to do a lot of scoring on Alabama, though that Kirby Smart-Mel Tucker secondary should make any Tide fan nervous with Cook, a future NFL talent, under center. Alabama 24, Michigan State 17
Gordon McGuinness, Pro Football Focus: Michigan State will need big games from their trio of stars on offense in quarterback Connor Cook, wide receiver Aaron Burbridge and running back LJ Scott. That won't be easy against an Alabama defense that has shut down and smothered opponents all year long, while the Tide can run Derrick Henry all game long on the other side of the ball. Alabama 31, Michigan State 24
Phil Steele, via espn.com: Alabama is one-dimensional, but that one dimension is outstanding, as it features the Heisman Trophy winner in running back Derrick Henry. Michigan State has played its best in big games and, along with the Crimson Tide, has an outstanding defense. With neither team likely to be able to move the ball much, this game has the making of a low-scoring affair, which has me siding with the under for my pick. Alabama 24, Michigan State 13
Will Harris, via espn.com: As of today we make no claim to have any idea who's going to win this one, but it will be a four-quarter game, and covering double digits seems a tall task, even for a focused SEC champion. Alabama 20, Michigan State 17
Chris Fallica, via espn.com: I can totally see this game being something along the lines of 17-13 in the fourth quarter, only to see the Tide go on a drive as they did to end the LSU game and win by double digits. Alabama 24, Michigan State 13