The Washington State Cougars and Michigan State Spartans were both fringe National Championship contenders in October. Neither team was able to ultimately get the job done, and each slipped into national obscurity as the season progressed.
Still, the fact that both finished the year ranked should be considered an accomplishment, and they will meet in the Holiday Bowl on December 28.
Michigan State Bowl History
Sparty missed out on a bowl game last season, but that hasn’t stopped the team from rebounding nicely. The Spartans are used to playing in huge bowl games, so motivation could be a test that Mark Dantonio will have to deal with over the course of December. Michigan State’s last three bowl games were all New Year’s Six/BCS bowls, and its three appearances before that were all New Year’s Day showings.
Even with the tough battles, the Spartans are 4-1 in their last five bowl game appearances. They’re just 11-15 overall in 26 postseason contests, but they have a history of playing at a high level against the best opponents.
Washington State Bowl History
When Mike Leach came to his alma mater in 2012, he was tasked with trying to revive a team that had fallen on incredibly tough times. The Cougars had three straight 10-plus loss seasons from 2008 through 2010, and a 4-8 campaign in 2011 wasn’t much better.
After three seasons on the job, Leach has gotten the Cougars to respectability. They have been ranked at some point in each of the last three years, and this is going to be a chance to win 10 games for the first time since 2003.
This is Wazzu’s second straight trip to the Holiday Bowl. Last season, it was beaten by Minnesota. The Cougars also won this game in 2003 over Texas and lost it in 1981 to BYU.
Why Michigan State Will Win the Holiday Bowl
Michigan State isn’t a pretty team, but it gets the job done. The Spartans were badly overmatched by Notre Dame and Ohio State this year, but the rest of the schedule played out nicely.
If you take out those games against the Irish and the Buckeyes, they allowed just 15.7 points per game to other competition.
Brian Lewerke is careful with the football and is incredibly athletic. He only tossed six picks on 396 throws this year. With a defense that is this good, the Spartans are incredibly tough to beat when they aren’t making mistakes on offense.
Why Washington State Will Win the Holiday Bowl
This is Luke Falk’s last game at Washington State, and he’s going to want to make it a good one. He’s not an elite quarterback, but he does have huge stats thanks to the fact that the Cougars only ran the ball an average of 24 times per game this season.
This offense doesn’t have any standouts at the wide receiver position, and that’s going to make Michigan State defend the entire field. The Cougs have five men who caught at least 50 balls this year and had nine receivers with at least 281 yards.
Holiday Bowl Prediction
Leach gets a tough rap for not performing well in bowl games because his offense becomes predictable when you study it for weeks at a time. It’s true that he’s only 1-2 in bowls with Wazzu and 6-6 overall, but we don’t think that should count against him.
The Cougars actually have a defense this year, and when they were able to pull off the upset of USC back in October and put away teams like Oregon, it was that defense that did the job.
The Spartans are going to have to score in the 30s to win the Holiday Bowl, and we just don’t see them doing so. A game that reaches 50 or so total points should be enough for the Cougs to pull off this upset.
Holiday Bowl Pick: Washington State 32, Michigan State 27
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