By Jeff Ghiringhelli
The Alamo Bowl was supposed to be a mid-level bowl game caught in the middle of the Bowl Championship Series. It has instead turned into a game filled with story lines and drama, and surely more eyes than anticipated will be on San Antonio tomorrow night.
The Michigan State Spartans meet the Texas Tech Red Raiders, and both sides have had to deal with their fair share of controversy over the past month. The Spartans have removed running back Glenn Winston and safety Roderick Jenrette from the team, and suspended eight more players following an altercation at a campus dorm in November. Key contributors suspended include starting wide receivers Mark Dell and BJ Cunningham, and starting cornerback Chris L. Rucker.
The Red Raiders fired head coach Mike Leach earlier this week when it was learned that he locked wide receiver Adam James in a closet for several hours after he was diagnosed with a mild concussion. Complete details on the situation are not known, but defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill has been named interim head coach for the game.
McNeill has been with Texas Tech for 10 years, so he should do well in filling the void left by Leach. The question remains as to whether he will have all of the players in his corner following the firing. Many of the players chose Texas Tech because of Leach, and now that he is gone, McNeill must make sure he has his players on the same page.
Of course, the game will be won on the field despite all these issues, and there are plenty of match ups to pay attention to during the game. Texas Tech boasts the number two passing attack in the FBS at 381 yards per game. The Spartans on the other hand rank 102 out of 120 in passing defense at 252 yards per game. This match up was tough on paper for the Spartans even before the suspensions, and will be even harder without Jenrette and Rucker.
Michigan State has a potent passing attack as well, ranking first in the Big Ten and 26th nationally at 272 yards per game. However, they will be without Dell and Cunningham, who combined for 74 catches, 1090 yards, and five touchdowns. Lead receiver Blair White will play, but sophomore Keshawn Martin and tight ends Charlie Gantt and Brian Linthicum will be relied on more than usual. How they respond to elevated roles will have a huge impact on the result of this game.
Michigan State is appearing in its third consecutive bowl game under head coach Mark Dantonio, the most since the 1990s. Texas Tech appeared in a bowl game during all 10 years under Leach, winning five of nine to this point.
With any bowl game comes increased intensity on the field, but it seems that the team that responds more positively to the distractions off the field will have a leg up on the opposition tomorrow night.