When college football moved to its current 4-team playoff format, they made the curious choice to park the semifinal games on New Year’s Eve, one of the few holidays that could conceivably command enough attention to draw eyes and remotes away from the CFB broadcast. It didn’t take the powers at be long to recognize their mistake and withdraw sch crucial contests from competition with Ryan Secrest, but rather than going full Constantine III, college football did leave a garrison behind to man a day when many people will still be off work and looking for something to watch.
There are, to be sure, matchups worthy of your time in today’s lineup. The Mizzou/Oklahoma State Liberty Bowl should be good, you could talk me into the Pasadena Consolation Holiday Bowl featuring Northwestern and Utah, but man, if I didn’t have a rooting interest which felt like an unpleasant obligation for most of this year, I would never tune in to the Redbox Bowl featuring Michigan State and Oregon. Yet here we are. Let’s discuss.
Michigan State comes into this game looking to break one of the most hideous offensive chills I’ve ever seen. The Spartans flailed to a 7-5 record, and in the months of October and November, they cracked 25 points exactly zero times. Talk about advanced metrics, tempo-adjusted numbers and such all you want (those numbers agree this was a bottom-20 offense in the country), it’s hard to win even in a down Big Ten when you aren’t putting anything on the scoreboard. Their last three games, they managed 6, 6, and 14 points, and those last two were Nebraska and Rutgers.
Their defense, as per usual, was heroic enough to make this a 7-win campaign instead of the 2 or 3 an average defense would have managed if weighted down with this offense. That #2 S&P+ ranking was well-deserved, and was so good as to drag them to #35 overall in S&P despite the horrendous offense.
Looking across the line of scrimmage, Oregon could easily find themselves pretty disappointed to be here. They were an all-time coaching blunder away from beating Stanford, which, all other things equal, would have gotten them to a 6-0 start and put them in dominant divisional position given that they beat eventual Pac-12 North winner Washington. From there, they dropped a few other conference games to slide down here in the pecking order.
The national story for Oregon is the surprising decision of QB Justin Herbert to return for his senior year, foregoing what probably would have been a pretty high draft selection. With him at the controls, this was an above-average offense, albeit maybe not quite what was expected of them coming into this season. Herbert has a clear, NFL-caliber #1 WR in Dillon Mitchell and a stable of three backs each averaging over 5 YPC on meaningful sample sizes. The defense was a bit below average statistically, but those numbers are skewed somewhat by the mystifying outcome against Arizona.
Speaking of Herbert’s decision to return, MSU’s only draft defection to this point has been CB Justin Layne. A quick note on that: we could all probably do without Mark Dantonio’s gruff, ‘well I think you want to finish things’ reaction. He doesn’t owe you anything at this point, Coach, and you’re probably better served by him being a healthy 2nd or 3rd round pick than risking he get injured and slide badly or go undrafted.
So. The game itself. Brian Lewerke makes his return at QB for the Spartans, but who knows how healthy he is, or what impact the injury even had anyway given the dreck he had around him. If you’re an MSU fan, it’s hard to know whether you really want to see signs of offensive improvement or not, because we all know Dantonio will seize on any positive outcome as proof positive that his friends on his offensive staff don’t need to be mailed to Siberia. Of course, the odds Dantonio makes any changes even if MSU gets shut out and continues to look like it has when trying to move the ball are minimal anyway, so you might as well root for an appealing game to watch.
Outcome of the Redbox Bowl?
This poll is closed
3:00? I’ll be pregaming