At different times this year, it wasn't difficult to see either Alabama or Michigan State playing for the BCS National Championship. After all, Alabama entered the year as the near-consensus favorite to repeat as champions after their 2009 run, and Michigan State was 8-0 with a big win over Wisconsin when they dropped a three-touchdown loss to Iowa in late October.
That loss to Iowa remains the only one on Big Ten co-champion Michigan State's resume, a distinction that the Spartans have won mostly by being solid at everything -- but not truly elite at much of anything. They rank first or second in the Big Ten in only two categories, both of them having to do with punting. Then again, there's very little that Michigan State does poorly, with the possible exceptions of passing defense, kickoff returns and tackles for loss. (And their passing efficiency defense is actually pretty good, meaning the passing yardage numbers might be skewed by opponents trying to catch up late.) Running back Edwin Baker rushed for 1,187 yards and 13 TDs on 195 carries, while QB Kirk Cousins was efficient, going 216-of-320 for 2,705 yards, 20 TDs and 9 INTs. Their coach, Mark Dantonio, is best-known for having a heart attack shortly after calling for a fake kick to win an overtime game against Notre Dame.
Alabama started out the season 5-0, looking for all the world like the national front-runner they were supposed to be before a two-touchdown loss at South Carolina. After that, the Tide would never win more than two in a row, and would lose at LSU and in a heartbreaker to archrival Auburn, who would win the SEC title and shot at the BCS championship that was supposed to Alabama's. Mark Ingram, fresh off a Heisman Trophy campaign in 2009, looked absolutely mortal in running for 816 yards and 11 TDs on 146 attempts, with his only 100-yard games coming against Duke and Arkansas. Backup Trent Richardson, who was potentially better than Ingram, was also a non-factor in several of the Tide's games. Greg McElroy was efficient -- 209-of-296 for 2,676 yards, 19 TDs and 5 INTs -- but he was sometimes flustered by opposing defenses, and he was never meant to carry the team by himself. Their coach, Nick Saban, is best-known for winning championships and leaving a job or two, including his former position as head coach at Michigan State.
The Capital One Bowl kicks off on Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. EST on ESPN.