College Football Semifinal Betting Picks: #3 Michigan State Spartans vs #2 Alabama Crimson Tide

2015 College Football Playoff Semifinals
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic
#3 Michigan State Spartans vs #2 Alabama Crimson Tide
Thursday, December 31, 2015, 8:00 pm Eastern, TV: ESPN
AT&T Stadium – Arlington, Texas
Opening Line: Alabama -9 1/2 (-105)
Current Line: Alabama -10
Opening Total: 49
Current Total: 45 1/2
Opening Money Line: Alabama -400 / Michigan State +300
Current Money Line: Alabama -370 / Michigan State +285

Alabama is a 10 point favorite against Michigan State in the semifinals in the Cotton Bowl Thursday.
Alabama is a 10 point favorite against Michigan State in the semifinals in the Cotton Bowl Thursday.

The Second College Football playoff semifinal matches the #3 Michigan State Spartans and the #2 Alabama Crimson Tide Thursday night at the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas. The winner will face either the #1 Clemson Tigers or #4 Oklahoma Sooners in the Championship game January 11 in Glendale, Arizona. Alabama won the only previous meeting against Michigan State 49-7 in the 2011 Capital One Bowl in Orlando.

Michigan State is coached by Mark Dantonio. The Spartans are 12-1 overall and tied for first in the Big Ten East Division with Ohio State. The Spartans won the tie-breaker by beating the Buckeyes. Michigan State beat Iowa 16-13 in the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis. The Spartans are 11-14 all time in bowl games. The Spartans are playing in a bowl for the ninth straight season and have won four straight post-season games. MSU came back from 20 points down in the forth last year to beat Baylor 42-41 in the Cotton Bowl last year. It was the first ever trip to the Cotton Bowl for the Spartans. Michigan State has six national titles but none since 1966.

Alabama is coached by Nick Saban. Saban coached at Michigan State from 1995-99. Alabama is also 12-1 and won the SEC West Title outright at 7-1. The Crimson Tide beat Florida 29-15 in the SEC Championship game in Atlanta. Alabama is 35-24-3 all-time in bowl games, including 2-4 in the Cotton Bowl. The Crimson Tide are making their 12th straight bowl appearance. Alabama lost to Ohio State 42-35 last year in the semifinals in the Sugar Bowl. Alabama is looking for their 16th national title.

Michigan State lost at Nebraska 39-38. The Spartans have road wins at Western Michigan 37-24, Rutgers 31-24, Michigan 27-23, and Ohio State 17-14, along with home wins against Oregon 31-28, Air Force 35-21, Central Michigan 30-10, Purdue 24-21, Indiana 52-26, Maryland 24-7 and Penn State 55-16. The Spartans have won four straight games.

In the Big Ten Championship game, MSU was a 3 point favorite against then undefeated Iowa and the total was 50. It was a defensive struggle as expected. Michigan State took a 9-6 lead into the fourth quarter with all the scoring via field goals. Iowa scored the game’s first touchdown on an 85 yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter and also converted for two points. The teams exchanged punts. Michigan State took over at their own 18 yard line with 9:31 left. The Spartans would go on arguably one of the best drives in college football history. They took 9:04 to drive down the field and score the go-ahead touchdown with 27 seconds left to make it 17-14. Iowa fumbled on the last play of the game. It was their third turnover of the game for the Hawkeyes. Michigan State is 5-7-1 ATS and the total is 6-7 this season.

The Crimson Tide have a home loss to Ole Miss 43-37. Alabama has a win over Wisconsin 35-17 in Arlington, Texas, road wins at Georgia 38-10, Texas A&M 41-23, Tennessee 19-14, Mississippi State 31-6 and Auburn 29-13, plus home wins over Middle Tennessee 37-10, UL-Monroe 34-0, Arkansas 27-14, LSU  30-16 and Charleston Southern 56-6. Alabama has won ten straight games since the Ole Miss loss.

Alabama was a 16.5 point favorite against Florida and the total was 38. Florida took a 7-2 lead after an 85 yard punt return early in the second. However, Alabama would score 27 straight points to take a 29-7 lead. Florida added a late touchdown and two point conversion to make it 29-15. That last touchdown not only put them inside the number, but sent the game over the total. Florida had just 180 total yards and 7 first downs. Alabama is 7-6 ATS and the total 5-8 this season.

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Michigan State is outscoring teams 32-21. The Spartans are #21 in points allowed nationally. Michigan State averages 397 yards per game on offense including 235 passing and 162 rushing yards. On defense, MSU allows 343 total yards per game, including 230 passing and 113 rushing yards. The Spartans are #23 in total defense and #9 against the rush. MSU has forced 28 turnovers and has 12 of their own. The Spartans average 44 penalty yards and opponents average 48 per game. MSU is 102/204 on third and fourth down conversions and opponents are 76/204. The Spartans have 35 sacks and have allowed 17 this season. Michigan State is 43/50 scoring in the red zone with 35 touchdowns and opponents are 32/38 with 23 touchdowns. The Spartans have five defensive touchdowns this season.

MSU quarterback Connor Cook has completed 56.9% of his passes for 2,921 yards with 24 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, along with 80 rushing yards. He has been battling a shoulder injury for the second half of the season. He missed the Ohio State game but is listed as probable for the semifinals. Tyler O’Connor is the back-up. He has thrown for 133 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception, along with 48 rushing yards.

Running back L.J. Scott has 140 carries for 691 yards with 11 touchdowns, plus 3 catches. Gerald Holmes has 108 carries for 534 yards with 8 touchdowns, plus 8 catches for 82 yards. Madre London has 114 carries for 489 yards and 3 touchdowns, plus 2 catches. Fullback Trevon Pendleton is questionable with a leg injury.

Receiver Aaron Burbridge has 80 catches for 1,219 yards with 7 touchdowns, plus 36 rushing yards. MacGarrett Kings, Jr. has 38 catches for 492 yards with 5 touchdowns, plus 15 rushing yards. R.J. Shelton has 41 catches for 484 yards and 4 touchdowns. Josiah Price has 19 catches for 228 yards and 5 touchdowns. Four defensive players are listed on the injury report.

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Alabama is outscoring teams 34-14 this season. Alabama is #3 in points allowed and #33 in scoring.  The Crimson Tide average 423 yards per game on offense including 214 passing and 208 rushing yards. Alabama is #29 in rushing offense. On defense, Alabama is allowing 258 yards per game including 184 passing and 74 rushing yards. Alabama is #2 in total defense and #1 in rush defense nationally. Even the pass defense is #18 nationally. The Crimson Tide have forced 24 turnovers and have 17 of their own. Alabama averages 57 penalty yards per game and opponents average 49. Alabama is 78/207 on third and fourth down conversions and opponents are 61/214. The Crimson Tide have forced 46 sacks and allowed 18 this season. Alabama is 45/56 scoring in the red zone with 30 touchdowns and opponents are 20/24 with 11 touchdowns. The Crimson Tide have four pick sixes and four punt return for  touchdowns this season.

Quarterback Jake Coker has thrown for 2,489 yards with 17 touchdowns and 8 interceptions, along with 94 rushing yards on 61 carries and 2 touchdowns. Cooper Bateman has thrown for 291 yards with a touchdown and 2 interceptions.

Running back Derrick Henry has 339 carries for 1,986 yards and 23 touchdowns, plus 10 catches for 97 yards. He has a rushing touchdown in 18 straight games dating back to last season and won the Heisman Trophy earlier this month. Kenyan Drake has 72 carries for 347 yards and a touchdown, along with 24 catches for 250 yards and a touchdown. Damien Harris has 45 carries for 155 yards and a touchdown.

Receiver Calvin Ridley has 75 catches for 893 yards and 5 touchdowns.  ArDarius Stewart has 54 catches for 600 yards and 4 touchdowns. O.J. Howard has 30 catches for 335 yards. Richard Mullaney has 34 catches for 308 yards and 5 touchdowns. Robert Foster has 10 catches for 116 yards and 2 touchdowns, but is out for the season with a shoulder injury. Chris Black is also out for the season with an ankle injury.

Michigan State is 4-0 ATS in bowl games and after scoring less than 20 points, 6-0-1 in neutral site games, 4-0-1 in December, 3-0-1 overall, 5-1-1 after allowing less than 20 points, 4-1-1 after a straight up win, 14-5-1 on fieldturf, 33-16-2 against teams with winning records, 49-24-2 after allowing less than 275 total yards, and 0-4 in non-conference games.

Alabama is 6-1 ATS against teams with winning records, 5-1 against Big Ten teams, and after allowing 20 points or less, 4-1 after a straight up win, overall, and after allowing 275 yards or less, 5-2 after allowing less than 100 rushing yards, 3-8-1 after allowing less than 170 passing yards, 2-6 after rushing for 200 yards or more, and 2-10-1 in non-conference games.

This should be a low scoring game in contrast to the other semifinal. It will take a supreme effort for Michigan State to pull off the upset. The Spartans relish the underdog role though, and I think they keep it close. However, Alabama wins late.

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