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December 28, 2012

Friday Night 20: Previewing TCU vs. Michigan State

It's been a while, but we're back with another Friday Night 20, this time on the eve of TCU's matchup Saturday night with Michigan State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Tempe, Ariz.

Have at them.

1. OK, so the Spartans are 6-6, but they've had two quality wins - vs. Boise State and at Wisconsin - and four of their six losses came within three points. They lost to Notre Dame 20-3, and to Nebraska 28-24. Michigan State's season was up and down and involved plenty of drama, including two games in overtime. Sound familiar? The Frogs are probably the better team, but the Spartans, like TCU, were on the brink - of winning and losing - several times this season.

2. Le'Veon Bell: He's really good. The junior rushed for 1648 yards and 11 touchdowns. After his season-opening performance against Boise State - 210 yards, two touchdowns - he emerged as an early Heisman candidate. Bell, a bruising 6-foot-2, 244 pounds, had a few mediocre games in September and Octoober, but killed it down the stretch, rushing for 188, 133 and 266 yards in the Spartans' final three games.

3. Can TCU stop him? Well, the Frogs haven't given up much on the ground this year, surrendering only two 100-yard rushers, Oklahoma State's Julius Randle (126) and Oklahoma's Damien Williams (115).

4. In those games, Williams ripped off, virtually untouched, a 66-yard run, pushing him over the 100-yard mark, while Randle averaged only 3.9 yards a carry. Still, Williams beat the Frogs with his explosiveness, and Randle wore them down, especially in the second half, leading the Cowboys to an easy 36-14 win.



5. If Bell has a big game, I see it coming more in the fashion of Randle's performance. Bell can wear a defense down - that's the danger here for TCU. The Frogs arguably had the best defense in the Big 12, or at least they did during the final month of the season.

6. Rumor has it TCU knocked out 3,700 wings Wednesday night during a team dinner at a Tempe Buffalo Wild Wings. Turned out to be 20 wings per player, which, believe it or not, still trailed Michigan State's clip of 33 per player. They have stats for everything.

7. Pro tip: Always go with parmesan garlic. If for some ungodly reason they're out (which has happened to me before), honey barbecue is a decent replacement.

8. Another pro tip (I'm full of them): Squeeze a nap into your Saturday afternoon schedule. Frogs and Spartans don't kick off until 8:15 p.m. Arizona time - that's 9:15 p.m. back home in Texas. Given the usual heavy dose of commercials that typically accompanies ESPN games, and the possibility of a late start (if the game before runs long), you can almost guarantee TCU will be playing into early Sunday morning.

9. Was looking through some recruiting stuff the other night, and realized something: The 2011 dual-threat quarterback class could be a special one. In fact, it already is. Braxton Miller (1), J.W. Walsh (4), Teddy Bridgewater (6), Marcus Mariota (12), Michael Brewer (13), Johnny Manziel (14), Everett Golson (16) and Trevone Boykin (24) were all among Rivals' top 30 players at the position. Two of those guys led their teams to undefeated seasons, one won a Heisman, one led his team to the Fiesta Bowl, one led his team to the Sugar Bowl, and Boykin, of course, was able to step in midseason (mid-week, really) and lead a young, injury-riddled team to a bowl game in its first Big 12 season. As for Walsh, he had success before getting injured and Brewer will likely start next year for Texas Tech. Special bunch.

10. Maybe that says something. It used to be, "dual-threat" guys were anomolies, the Michael Vicks of the world, who were basically running backs that occasionally threw the football. Now, not so much. All of the guys I named above can throw the ball with great efficiency. Take Boykin for example. He really hasn't even ran the ball much this year. He's by far more effective throwing it. Same with Miller and Bridgewater. The lesson from all of this: Great mobility in the pocket matters. Dual-threat quarterbacks provide that, and, perhaps more than they did 10 years ago, they provide a great ability to throw the ball just as good as they run it.

11. Stat Watch: Boykin has a great shot at reaching the 2,000-yard passing mark. He's at 1,853 yards. Josh Boyce has outside shot at a 1,000-yard season, needing an even 200 yards receiving Saturday night to reach the milestone. He's also need three touchdowns to have 10 on the season.

12. Speaking of milestones, B.J. Catlon is still in search of his first career rushing touchdowns. That's right. He hasn't reached the endzone on the ground this year. He has one receiving touchdown.



13. Still, Catalon is really underrated, in my opinion. He leads the team in carries (116) and rushing yards (562). He's also averaged a team-high 4.8 yards a carry. That's solid work for a true freshman, who, with Tucker's injuries, has been tasked with burdening the Frogs' rushing game. He also has 23 catches, good for fourth on the team. To put that in perspective: Ladarius Brown has 25.

14. I'd expect the Frogs to play this game sort of like they played the Texas game, perhaps with a bit more passing involved. I think TCU can really use it's athleticism to exploit the Spartans in that area. But they have to be physical, too, especially against a tough Michigan State defensive line. TCU controlled the line - on both sides of the ball - against Texas. The Frogs will have to do the same Saturday night.

15. I wrote about this earlier in the week, but Spartans' defensive front (as I hinted to above) is physically imposing. DE William Gholson and DT Tyler Hoover are both 6-foot-7, while NT Anthony Rashad White is a stout 6-foot-2, 330 pounds. Opposite of Gholston, is DE Marcus Rush, a sophomore who, at 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, reminds me of Stansly Maponga. Rush has 7.5 tackles for loss this year. Gholston is tied for the team lead with 12 tackles for loss.

16. Thank God for Baylor. Don't crucify me yet - I'll explain.

17. You have to admit, despite any ill will you hold against the Bears, that their 49-26 win Thursday night over UCLA provided at least a little excitement to what's been a pretty lackluster bowl season full of mid-major matchups (perfect example: Western Kentucky vs. Central Michigan) and defensive struggles, most of which would more accurately be described as displays of offensive ineptitude.

18. All that said, bowls matter. If not always to the fans, definitely to the players and coaches participating in them. Winning the game is great, but, from what I can gather, the weeks of preparation leading up to the games, as well as the art of treating it like a business trip (despite a somewhat vacation-like atmosphere) is crucial in the development of a program. TCU didn't seem ready for the Fiesta Bowl in 2009. It was a big stage with big implications, and afterward you were left wondering if Boise State really got the Frogs' best shot. You definitely didn't feel that way the next year after the Rose Bowl. TCU seemed to play with a been-there-done-that mindset. Experience does that. For a team full of freshmen, many of which progressed remarkably over the course of a season in the Big 12, Saturday night against a 6-6 team in a not-so-well-known bowl, provides more experience. That matters.

19. Now, all that said, momentum matters, too. The only way for TCU to pick that up is by winning Saturday night. If you're the Frogs, a one-game winning streak is a whole lot better than a two-game losing streak heading into a season-opener against LSU.

20. We tried something new: relative grading. That's how we compared the Frogs and Spartans. I graded the TCU offense, while Trey did the defense. Check those out through the links above. Also, we'll be live-chatting/blogging Saturday night. We'll get on an hour or so before kickoff, so you can send in some early questions and comments. It'll be free so invite your non-subscriber friends, too.


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