Michigan State and Alabama will meet for the very first time when they square-off on New Year's Day in the Capital One Bowl.
The Spartans tied with Ohio State and Wisconsin for the Big Ten title with records of 11-1 overall and 7-1 in the conference.
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio suffered heart attack hours after a thrilling last-second home win vs. Notre Dame in which he called for a fake field goal attempt that resulted in a 29-yard touchdown pass and a 34-31 win. Dantonio didn't return to the sideline until the Northwestern game, 35 days and five games later. The following week, the Spartans suffered their only loss of the season - an inexplicable 37-6 blowout at Iowa after which the Hawkeyes went 1-3.
Dantonio's team was forecasted by CollegeFootballPoll.com's Congrove Computer Rankings (CCR Top 120) to go 7-5 overall and 3-5 in the conference. In fact, most preseason prognostications had Michigan State finishing no better than 5th in the Big Ten.
Meanwhile, Alabama was projected to contend for a second consecutive national title, but the Tide finished 9-3 overall, 5-3 in the SEC for a 4th-place finish in the west division. First came a 35-21 upset loss at South Carolina to knock 'Bama from the unbeaten ranks in the sixth game of the season. Alabama would later lose 24-21 at LSU and then surrender a 24-point 2nd quarter deficit in bowing at home to rival Auburn 28-27.
The computer still heavily favors Alabama (-17.06) in this contest, ranking its schedule as the 13th-toughest in the land compared to Michigan State's 58th-ranked slate. During the regular season, the computer
was 9-3 in forecasting the winner of Alabama games and 4-7 against the spread. It was also 9-3 straight up with Michigan State games, but a much better 6-5 against the spread. (Such information is tracked for the sole purpose of recording the computer's accuracy in picking games and ranking teams. It is not intended for gambling purposes).
Alabama is 32-22-3 all-time in bowl games, but is just 4-5 in its last 9 bowl trips. Michigan State is only 7-13 in its bowl history and is riding a 4-bowl losing streak. The Spartans are 2-8 in bowl games since 1993.
This will be the 19th consecutive season that the Capital One Bowl has matched an SEC team with a Big Ten opponent and the winner will break a 9-9 tie between the conferences. The Big Ten has taken 5 of the last 6 games, including last season's 19-17 Penn State win over LSU.
Somewhat surprisingly, Alabama's last and only appearance in this Orlando bowl game occurred at the end of the 1994 season when it downed Ohio State 24-17. Michigan State has only played in this game twice previously, the latest coming at the end of the 2008 season when it fell 24-12 to Georgia. The Spartans beat Florida 37-34 to end the 1999 season.
The game will take place on New Year's Day at the 70,000-seat Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando. It will be televised nationally on ESPN beginning at 1:00 p.m. ET.