The No. 4 Baylor Bears and No. 7 Michigan State Spartans were among a handful of teams that were in contention for the inaugural College Football Playoff in the final weeks of the regular season, but failing to outright claim their conference titles has pitted them in the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day.
Art Briles's squad arguably had the best case to complain about how the new system left them out. Baylor owns the highest-scoring offense in the country, and only suffered one loss all season just like three of the teams in this year’s tournament. Eventually it was believed that sharing the Big 12 title with TCU rather than facing each other in a conference title game ultimately kept the Bears out.
Michigan State endured two difficult losses this season, including the 46-27 blowout at Oregon in just the second week of the regular season. However, the Spartans also fell to eventual Big Ten champion Ohio State, 49-37, and missed the opportunity to play for the conference crown.
While the game holds no national title significance, it’s still an opportunity for both schools to show off their incredible offensive firepower at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Baylor rocked opponents with 48.8 points and 581.3 yards per game this season, powered by senior quarterback Bryce Petty’s 3,305 passing yards and 26 touchdowns to six interceptions. Though his numbers were down from last year, Petty was still one of the more dominant passers in the Big 12, notching the third best passer rating of 155.3, to go along with a 62.1 completion percentage.
Petty has a pair of reliable targets in Corey Coleman and K.D. Cannon to go up against a Spartans defense that’s No. 15 in the nation with 19.9 points allowed per game. Coleman leads the Bears with 10 receiving touchdowns and 57 receptions this season, while the freshman Cannon looks to score his first touchdown since Baylor’s 61-58 shootout win over TCU back on Oct. 11.
Then there’s Bears running back Shock Linwood, who finished No. 2 in the Big 12 with 1,226 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns.
The Spartans will throw out their own balanced and well-oiled attack, with junior quarterback Connor Cook at the helm. Already publicly stating that he intends to return next season, Cook tossed a career-high 2,900 yards and equaled his 2013 totals of 22 touchdowns and six touchdowns for Michigan State’s No. 7-ranked offense.
Cook also has one of the best supporting casts in the country in running back Jeremy Langford and receiver Tony Lippett. The senior Langford was fifth in the Big Ten with 1,360 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns, and he’s gained more than 100 yards in nine-straight games. Lippett, one of only three receivers in the conference to notch 1,000-plus yards, led the Big Ten with 93.7 yards per game and scored 11 touchdowns.
The Spartans do have several significant advantages on the defensive end. Senior safety Kurtis Drummond leads the squad in total tackles (65), interceptions (4), passes broken up (11) and passes defended (15), and linebackers Ed Davis and Taiwan Davis and defensive ends Shilique Calhoun Marcus Rush have totaled a minimum of 10 tackles for a loss this season.
Start Time: 12:30 P.M. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Online Stream: A live stream is available at Watch ESPN here
Betting Odds: Baylor -2.5
Over/Under: 70 points
Prediction: Michigan State over Baylor, 37-30