JOHN MARSHALL,AP College Football Writer
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — There might not be anything wild going on at the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Well, at least not on offense.
In its first season with a new name, the bowl could have a decidedly defensive feel when TCU and Michigan State meet at Sun Devil Stadium on Dec. 29.
“Both teams have outstanding defenses,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “But you never know how games are going to play out.”
Oklahoma and Iowa were locked in a defensive struggle in last year’s game, then known as the Insight Bowl, before the Sooners pulled away for a 31-14 victory.
This one could be even lower-scoring.
Playing the nation’s fifth-toughest schedule, Michigan State (6-6) finished the regular season fourth in total defense, allowing 273.2 yards per game. The Spartans finished 10th in scoring defense, giving up 16.3 points per game.
TCU (7-5) was 18th nationally in total defense, allowing 332 yards per game, and held six of its 12 opponents to season-low scoring while giving up 23.8 points per game.
It has to keep up in the bowl game, right? Well, not everyone agrees on that.
“I’ve always said be careful what you wish for, what you talk about, because it usually changes when you give two teams a month to prepare for a ballgame,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “They said when I played in the Rose Bowl it was going to be a scoring fest. It ended up 21-19. For us, we want to find a way to win the ballgame.”
TCU had an up-and-down first season in the Big 12.
Playing more true freshmen (16) than seniors (11), the Horned Frogs won their first four games, then lost three of four, including a 56-53 shootout in triple overtime to Texas Tech.
TCU bounced back to beat West Virginia in double overtime in another wild game to become bowl eligible, then picked up another big win by beating Texas in Austin on Nov. 24 before closing out the season with a 24-17 loss to Oklahoma.
TCU finished 4-5 in the Big 12 but is headed to a bowl for the eighth straight season. That’s not half bad considering the Frogs had to use freshman Trevone Boykin at quarterback after Casey Pachall left the school to enter an inpatient rehabilitation facility in early October.
“Obviously, (Boykin) got us back to a bowl game, which was something that was a concern from the beginning anytime you make that kind of change,” Patterson said.
The Spartans also got off to a solid start. Their only loss in their first four games was to Notre Dame, which will play in the national championship on Jan. 7.
Michigan State went up and down after that, losing five of its final eight games.
The problem for the Spartans was pulling out close games. Their five losses in the Big Ten were by a combined 13 points, leaving them precariously close to missing out on the postseason.
Needing a win in its final game, Michigan State pulled it out, powering past Minnesota for a 26-10 win Nov. 24 to earn its eighth bowl appearance since 2001.
“The main thing when you look at our football team, we’ve got to finish, there’s no question about that,” Dantonio said. “But we can play. The margin of victory has been very, very narrow for either party, whether you’re playing us or we’re playing you.”
They could be in for another one in the desert against TCU.
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