The season has come to close and what does that mean? All-Star games! While schools are feverishly working to close their 2013 recruiting classes, those players hoping to make it at the next level are busy prepping to audition their skills in front of NFL scouts.
The college all-star games begin in earnest this weekend with the East-West Shrine, NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and the Raycom All-Star Classic set to kickoff this Saturday.
The Big 12 will be well represented with 16 players set to take the field this weekend.
The highest profile player participating is Kansas State's Collin Klein who will be one of four quarterback's on the East's Roster in the Shrine Game.
Klein is probably a long shot to get drafted in the NFL as a quarterback, but that doesn't mean there isn't a spot for him on an NFL roster. He began his career as a wide receiver and although he'll be working out this week as a quarterback, it wouldn't be shocking to see teams take a look at him at other positions as the draft draws closer.
Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege will also get a look this weekend. Most prognostications have Doege as a long shot to get drafted but you can bet he'll find he way into an NFL camp as a free agent should nobody select him when the draft rolls around in April.
Here's a look at the Big 12 players that will be in action this weekend starting with the East-West Shrine Game.
East-West Shrine Game Rosters
|Seth Doege||QB||Texas Tech|
|Cody Davis||S||Texas Tech|
|A.J. Klein||LB||Iowa State|
|Nigel Malone||CB||Kansas State|
|Colin Klein||QB||Kansas State|
NFLPA Collegiate Bowl (no teams designated on NFLPA website)
Raycom College Football All-Star Classic (Stars vs. Stripes)
|Jonathan Rush||OL||Oklahoma State|
|Nigel Nicholas||DL||Oklahoma State|
|Jeremy Reeves||CB||Iowa State|
Head coaching changes cause plenty of turmoil issues for both the school the old coach is leaving and the school the new coach is coming into.
It's an uneasy time for the players on both schools' rosters, assistant coaches are often up in the air about their job status, the families of all those involved are affected, and of course the players that are being recruited or have committed to either school are often in a state of limbo.
It's the last issue that appears to be giving new Cincinnati head coach, Tommy Tuberville, some heartburn, or so it appears from the outside looking in.
First, there was the story of Tuberville leaving prospects high-and-dry at the dinner table at a Lubbock steakhouse on his way out of town. You can choose which side to believe on that one.
Then there was the story this past Sunday that Massillon High School football coach, Jason Hall, was banning Tuberville and his staff from their campus due to the recruitment of their quarterback Kyle Kempt (or lack of) who had committed to the Bearcats under former coach Butch Jones, an offer that apparently wasn't honored by Cincy's new staff.
“It was an ugly situation,” Hall said. “I think they thought he was going to go to Tennessee with Butch Jones and they offered another quarterback. But that wasn’t the case. Cincinnati will not be allowed back in Massillon on our campus as long as Jason Hall is in Massillon.”
Washington High School in Massillon, Ohio and the surrounding areas happen to be a hotbed for potential college football recruits in the state of Ohio, something Tuberville will likely need now and more of in the future.
There are of course two sides to every story and this was coming solely from the side of the recruit. Since we'll probably never hear the other side, all we're left to do is raise an eyebrow, but whatever the case, it's probably not something Tuberville will be using on his recruiting postcards he sends out in the future.
And the stories don't stop there, either. It appears another player who had committed to Cincinnati (now de-committed) doesn't sound all that happy about his situation.
Defensive back Demetrius Monday de-committed on Thursday because he claims he never heard from Tuberville at all (Tubs was named Cincy's new coach on December 8th).
Finally, his dad called the school to find out what was up leading to these comments from the story on AJC.com.
“They told us to ‘look other places,’” Monday said (the father). “I’m in Los Angeles on vacation, and I just got the bad news.
“The thing is, we’ve talked to some other kids committed to Cincinnati. They say the same thing, that they haven’t heard from the staff. Basically (Tuberville) isn’t calling anybody, he’s trying to get the kids to de-commit on their own.
“It’s a bad situation.”
Again, there's likely more to tell here, but it certainly doesn't sound like Tuberville is making many new friends at his new home.
This isn't meant to accuse Tuberville of anything because who knows what really happened,[i] but at a minimum, you would think these are fires that Cincy's coaching staff would put out before they got into the public domain.
I guess the moral to the story is that yes indeed, coaching changes aren't always as simple as they seem on the surface. There are always a lot of variables at play and it appears from one side at least, Tuberville's first month at his new job hasn't gone as smoothly as he would have liked.
[i] Thinking out loud, why would you wait a month before trying to contact your new coach? Absolutely the coach should be the one contacting a recruit first, but a month?
They'll be plenty of storylines to talk about as the 2013 season approaches, but one thing Baylor will have on its mind this fall is that it will be their last year playing at Floyd Casey Stadium.
The Bears will be moving into a pristine new stadium along the Brazos River moving on campus after playing at Floyd Casey which is four miles away from campus.
Here's a quick glimpse at the early stages of the new place with construction now underway.
It is going to have a capacity of 45,000 with the option to expand to 55,000 in the future. How about new suites? Check, 39 of those along with 74 loge boxes and 1,200 outdoor club seats, as well.
Baylor has plenty to sell recruits given their recent success on the field and adding a brand new stadium certainly won't hurt in that respect.
And if you're looking to have your name on stadium or leave a personalized message, Baylor has you covered through their stadium brick campaign. Donations range from $175 for a 4" by 8" brick all the way up to $1,250 which will get you a 8' by 8" South Plaza Premium Paver.
If you've yet to see what the new stadium is going to look like, Baylor has put together a slick website at Baylor-Stadium.com with all the details. When the images like the one above come to fruition, home-field advantage will be squarely in the Bears' corner and that's not always something you can say about the old digs.
Arguably the best running back in the Big 12 the past two seasons is headed to the NFL a year early. Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle announced on Thursday he's heading to the NFL.
I've decided to pursue my dream of playing in the NFL. I'll always be a Cowboys!— Joseph Randle (@JRAN_1) January 10, 2013
It's a tough blow for the Cowboys, but then again, it's hard to argue with his decision. He's totaled over 2,600 yards on the ground the past two seasons and maybe more importantly, did it without missing a single game which should put to rest any doubts about his durability.
He can also catch the ball out of the backfield hauling in 71 passes during his sophomore and junior seasons. And if there's one thing a running back is required to do in OSU's offense, it's pass block, both of which are traits that will serve him well at the next level.
Even with Randle's departure, the cupboard isn't exactly bare at the running back position in Stillwater. The Pokes return both Jeremy Smith and Desmond Roland next season.
Smith has served at Randle's primary back the past two seasons. Smith has rushed for 1,279 yards over the past three seasons with his most productive year coming as a sophomore in 2011 when he totaled 646 yards on 91 carries. That season he rushed for 140 yards against Texas including touchdown runs of 30 and 74 yards.
As for Randle, he's projected to be drafted in rounds two or three and is ranked between the third and fifth ranked running back available.
Of course, that can change between now and the draft, but whatever the case, which ever teams draft him is going to be getting a guy that can do whatever is asked of him, something that won't be lost on NFL scouts.
The offseason always presents a ton of worthwhile topics to write about such as who is going to win the 2013 Heisman trophy nearly 12 months before it's presented.
It's probably a topic that shouldn't be touched until sometime in November - let alone early January - but then again, what fun would that be.
If you're one that likes to get some early action on such things, Sportsbook.com (now found at Sportsbook.ag) has released their early odds for the 2013 award.
On the list are the usual suspects, Johnny Manziel (of course), AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray, DeAnthony Thomas and Braxton Miller, among others.
The Big 12 had one lone representative on the list of 17 players. Any guess as to who it is?
It's not Baylor running back, Lache Seastrunk, who has already proclaimed he is going to win the award. It's not Oklahoma State running back, Joseph Randle, although that may or not be because he's yet to declare his intentions about entering the NFL draft.
The honor goes to Oklahoma (backup, most likely soon to be starter) quarterback, Blake Bell. Surprised? I was. He's the only guy on the list that doesn't have any starts to his name. That makes him an interesting candidate for sure, although he does have 24 rushing touchdowns to his name.
But if he does indeed when OU's starting quarterback job next season, who knows how he'll perform running the entire Sooner offense. He has just 20 passing attempts during his two seasons of actions. And we all know that's going to be a big piece of what he's asked to do next season.
If any OU player was deemed worthy of being a candidate nine months before the season kicks off, my guess would have been running back, Damien Williams, and even that might be a stretch at this point.
Of course, just because he's listed doesn't mean he'll be a candidate, obviously, just as anyone not on the list could easily put themselves into consideration when they actually start playing games. I don't recall seeing Manziel on any preseason Heisman lists and look how that turned out.
Or maybe the fine people at Sportsbook just saw this one play and decided he was Heisman worthy. Who knows.
What do you say, will the Big 12 have any legit Heisman contenders next season?
The Big 12 sent nine of its 10 teams to bowl games this season and walked away with just four victories, not a great showing considering there was only one game where a Big 12 team was a decided underdog (Oregon was a nine point favorite over Kansas State).
All told, there were still some solid performances mixed among a few disappointing showings, as well. With the season coming to a close, here's the report card grading all nine teams in their bowl games.
Baylor: Grade A
Result: Beat UCLA, 49-26, in the Holiday Bowl
Baylor's win over the Bruins capped a four game winning streak to end the season, a remarkable turnaround considering the Bears lost five of six games during a midseason swoon.
Baylor's offense was as good as it has been for most of the season but if was the defense that made the difference against a very good Bruin offense. The Bears held UCLA to 362 yards, 110 yards under their season average, while keeping Johnathan Franklin in check allowing the senior running back just 34 yards on the ground.
Baylor's victory gave them back-to-back bowl wins and capped an eight win season, the third straight season above .500. Times are definitely changing in Waco.
Oklahoma State: Grade A
Result: beat Purdue, 58-14 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl
The Cowboys had no trouble in dispatching Purdue who looked like a rudderless ship without their head coach. Oklahoma State did whatever they wanted, however they wanted, in amassing 524 yards while their defense forced five Boilermaker turnovers.
Quarterback Clint Chelf made another strong case to be the Pokes starting quarterback heading into 2013 with three touchdown passes without turning the ball over. The win sets up what could be another stellar season for Mike Gundy and company with the bulk of their two-deep roster set to return next season.
Making the Grade
Texas: Grade B+
Result: beat Oregon State, 31-27, in Alamo Bowl
The Longhorns defense showed up in a big way holding Oregon State to under 300 yards of total offense, a result largely due to Texas' 10 sacks of Oregon State quarterback Cody Vaz.
The strong showing by the Longhorn defense kept UT in the ballgame as David Ash tossed two fourth quarter touchdown passes, the second coming with under three minutes to play giving Texas the lead for the first time in the game.
The win gave Texas its second straight bowl win and first nine win season since they played for the national title following the 2009 season. The win was huge for a Texas program looking for any positive vibes heading into the offseason following another up-and-down year.
Texas Tech: Grade C+
Result: beat Minnesota, 34-31, in the Meineke Car Care Bowl
It wasn't a thing of beauty in a game where Tech was a heavy favorite, but it was a win nonetheless, a fact that shouldn't be overlooked considering the Red Raiders entered the game missing their head coach and offensive coordinator.
Texas Tech tied the game at 31 on a Seth Doege touchdown pass to Eric Ward with 1:44 left in the game. The Red Raiders' defense came up with a huge interception on Minnesota's ensuing possession setting up the game winning FG as time expired.
Texas Tech finished the season with an 8-5 record with Kliff Kingsbury now set to take over the head coaching duties.
Kansas State: Grade C
Result: Lost to Oregon 35-17 in the Fiesta Bowl
The result wasn't what K-State hoped for, but then again, there weren't many teams in the country that were going to hang with the Ducks.
The Wildcat defense did an admirable job in slowing down the Oregon attack but Kansas State's offense couldn't hold up its end of the bargain in the second half. KSU punted on four of their second half possessions and turned it over on another ending a two year run that saw the Wildcats win 21 games including a Big 12 title.
TCU: Grade C -
Result: lost to Michigan State, 17-16, in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
The Horned Frogs led 13-0 at halftime but couldn't hold the lead as Michigan rallied for a 17-16 victory ending TCU's first season in the Big 12 with a 7-6 mark.
TCU looked to be in control but then Le'Veon Bell got rolling in the second half and Skye Dawson's muffed punt set up a second Michigan State touchdown at the four yard line that proved to be the difference with both teams trading field goals in the game's final minutes.
Iowa State: Grade D+
Result: Lost to Tulsa, 31-17, in the Liberty Bowl
The Cyclones beat Tulsa to open the season but couldn't do it a second time falling to the Golden Hurricanes in a game they led 17-7 after one quarter.
That would be all for the Cyclone offense, however, as they finished with just nine first downs and 268 yards in the game. Iowa State's Sam Richardson once again started at quarterback for the Cyclones but couldn't keep the momentum going after starting the game six for seven for 114 yards. Richardson had been fighting a bout with the flu and finally gave way to Steele Jantz in the fourth quarter adding just 15 more passing yards over the second and third quarters..
Iowa State's defense allowed Tulsa to rush for 317 yards on the day. The Cyclones ended the season with a 6-7 record for the second straight year.
West Virginia: Grade D
Result: Lost to Syracuse, 38-14, in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl
The conditions weren't ideal, but it a disappointing end to an otherwise disappointing season for the Mountaineers. West Virginia's defense hadn't been bad against the run most of the season but that wasn't the case in the Big Apple as snow fell throughout most of the game. The Orange racked up 369 yards on the ground which included a 208 yard performance by Prince-Tyson Gulley.
Meanwhile, WVU's offense couldn't answer the second half onslaught by Syracuse as their running game failed to produce consistent yards while the conditions made it difficult for Geno Smith and the Mountaineer passing attack to mount much of an attack outside of Stedman Bailey who finished with 126 yards receiving with two touchdowns.
West Virginia finished up their first season in the Big 12 with a 7-6 record, disappointing considering all the defeats came over the final 8 games of the season.
Oklahoma: Grade D
Result: Lost to Texas A&M, 41-13, in the Cotton Bowl
Things looked good at halftime with Oklahoma trailing by one, 14-13, and the Sooners were set to open the second half with the football. But then OU's offense went into hibernation and A&M took off behind Johnny Manziel. The Sooners were outgained 252 to 49 yards in the third quarter while the Aggies added three touchdowns to put the game out of reach.
Manziel's performance against OU, well, was something to behold and the Sooners had no answer. That coupled with OU's lack of offense after halftime opened the floodgates sending Oklahoma to their third loss of the season and into winter conditioning wondering what just happened.
By most measures, the Sooners still had a successful season. Their two losses came against two of the best teams in the country - Kansas State and Notre Dame - and they won 10 games sharing the Big 12 title with the Wildcats.
Given all the positives on the season, it wasn't expecting too much for OU to actually be competitive in its bowl game, however. Texas A&M is on the rise, sure, and they have a Heisman winner, yes, but this wasn't a team that should be running up and down the field on the Sooners or shutting down an offense in the second half led by a four year starter at quarterback.
Make what you will of bowl game performances, but OU's Cotton Bowl appearance opened many people eyes to how far the Sooners may actually be from once again playing for national titles.
The first half for Kansas State ended just a badly as it started in Thursday night's Fiesta Bowl against Oregon.
After the Wildcats were hit with a couple Oregon haymakers in the first quarter that included De'Anthony Thomas' 94 yard kickoff return to start the game, K-State answered with a couple solid scoring drives in the second quarter to get back to within five at 15-10.
Kansas State looked as if it might have a chance to take a lead into halftime but their drive stalled and a false start penalty on fourth and one at the Oregon 18 yard line led to a 40 yard missed field goal.
Oregon then responded by driving 77 yards in just 46 seconds to take a 22-10 which was a backbreaker that K-State could not recover from.
The Ducks added 10 more points in the third quarter while the Wildcats' offense sputtered as KSU opened the half throwing the ball on six of their first seven plays in the third quarter resulting in two punts and that, folks, was your ball game.
As disappointing as the outcome was for K-State, that crew has nothing to hang their heads about. First off, Oregon might not have been playing for the national title, but that's a team that would give Alabama and Notre Dame all they could handle and then some.
Few would argue that Oregon had the more talented team in Glendale, but the Wildcats more than held their own. The Ducks were held to 384 yards and K-State was the first team all season - outside of Stanford - to hold them under 40 points.
If the first half ends with KSU getting either a touchdown or even a field goal, who knows what would of or could have happened in the second half.
Had Kansas State went into half with the lead, they likely would have been more inclined to stick with the running game. After all, you ride the horse that got you there but for whatever reason, Bill Snyder got away from that after halftime and the score probably had something to do with it.
This game aside, it doesn't take away from the remarkable season Snyder and his crew put together. They walk away with eleven wins and a Big 12 trophy in hand. The won in Norman. They steamrolled a West Virginia team in Morgantown that had yet to completely fall apart. They beat Texas for a fifth straight time. They had a Heisman finalist. The list goes on.
Friday night's game doesn't change any of that. A win would have been a perfect ending to a near perfect season, but the simple fact is Kansas State was the best team and surely the best story in the Big 12 this season.
There are 121 other FBS schools that would have gladly traded spots with the Wildcats on Thursday night. They'll finish the year ranked in the top ten and were one game away from playing for national title.
Not a bad season by any standard, Fiesta Bowl title or not.
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl Preview
#5 Kansas State (11-1) vs. #4 Oregon (11-1)
Let's get right to the down and dirty in this year's Fiesta Bowl. Can Kansas State's defense slow down Oregon's scoring machine?
Only one team has been able to do it and that was Stanford in their 17-14 victory over Oregon on November 17th. The Ducks scored at least 40 points in every other game this season and scored 50 points or more seven different times this season. They finished second in the nation averaging 50.8 points per game which was six points better than the next closest BCS level team, Texas A&M.
Kansas State's defense has held their own against some very good Big 12 offenses. They kept Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State largely in check, but like the Ducks, had one blemish on their schedule thanks to the 52 points they allowed to Baylor.
But none of those teams present the kind of challenge that Oregon will on Thursday night thanks to the running ability of quarterback Marcus Mariota along with running backs Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas. The trio rushed for 2,400 yards and averaged 5.5 yards per carry this season.
Adjusting to Oregon's tempo shouldn't be much of an issue - the Wildcats saw plenty of fast paced offenses in the Big 12 - but doing so when trying to slow down Oregon's rushing attack while not getting burned by Mariota's arm over the top will be the biggest key to the game.
And if the Wildcats get down early, look out because it's going to be tough to keep it from becoming a runaway train as happened in the aforementioned lone loss of the season when the Wildcats fell to Baylor, 52-24.
Kansas State's co-offensive coordinator, Dana Dimel, had some interesting thoughts this week in what happened in the Baylor game and how that could affect them in the Fiesta Bowl.
The thing that happened that game was, the score got away from us. It wasn’t like the season before, where we were used to being behind and coming back. This year we weren’t behind very much. If we were, it was very close and manageable. Once it became a larger lead we lost our identity and started doing some things and probably just throwing the ball way too much.
Baylor was the one game this year where we didn’t control the tempo of the game and stay within our self and control the ballgame the way we need to control it. We learned from that and now we are going to do what we do, play Kansas State football. We have been a very explosive offense and a very productive offense, but we have to do what we do. That’s not look at the scoreboard and just play. That was the mistake we made. We put Baylor in a position where they could take some chances.
And therein lies the challenge against a team like Oregon. Stanford was able to do it largely because their defense stepped up and played lights out. They forced Oregon into punting eight times and held them on two fourth down plays in the first half.
That coupled with a balanced offense that ran for 200 yards and threw for another 211 yards provided the recipe into beating Oregon that Kansas State will need to utilize in a game they enter as eight point underdogs.
The good news is that Kansas State has an offense capable of moving the chains and putting enough points on the board themselves.
Everyone knows about quarterback, Collin Klein. But they also happen to have two effective backs in John Hubert and Angelo Pease they have taken some of the load off of Klein this season.
Much has been made of Klein's improvement as a passer and a big reason for that is the chemistry he has with a very good set of receivers in Chris Harper (an Oregon transfer), Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson.
Combine that with a very solid offensive line and I'd expect K-State's offense to be every bit as effective as Oregon's on Thursday night.
Kansas State, Keys to the Game:
1. Adam Davis and Meshak Williams. Kansas State's defensive ends are very good, maybe even underrated because nationally, they might not be household names. The duo combined for 25.5 tackles for loss and 17 sacks on the season so you can bet Oregon knows who they are. How they are able to contain Mariota will go a long ways in determining how successful KSU is in stopping Oregon's offense.
2. The return game. Kansas State led the Big 12 in both kickoff and punt return average in 2012 averaging 29.2 and 22 yards, respectively. Oregon only has 13 touchbacks on the season so Tyler Lockett should have his chances in the kick return game. Lockett already has two kickoff returns for scores on the season and if he's able to get number three - advantage Kansas State - or at a minimum, he'll set up the Wildcats with a short field.
3. Tempo. Oregon will do everything in their power to control it but if Kansas State's offense can stay on the field by converting third downs (the Ducks held opponents to 30.9% conversion rate, 2nd in the Pac-12) they can be the ones dictating the pace of the game.
Oregon, Keys to the Game:
1. Stay patient on defense. For those that are familiar with the Wildcats offense, you know all too well what this means. Kansas State's running game is a thing of beauty when it's clicking. John Hubert and Collin Klein, especially, set up their blocks as well as can be done.
They wait, then wait some more forcing defenses out of their lanes or get them to take bad angles to the ball and away they go. How Oregon adjusts to a style of running game they've yet to see will be a huge key in their success on Thursday night.
2. Swarm to the ball. This goes right along with number one. It's defensive football 101 but the more guys around Klein and company the better because one or two guys aren't going to get it done, unless of course, they want to be chasing Klein down from behind.
3. Get up early. Dana Dimel said it in his quote above but Kansas State didn't handle it well when Baylor got a big lead on them in the third quarter. The Wildcats have a solid passing attack, but not necessarily when they're forced to do it as their sole means of moving the ball which is what they'll have to try and do eventually if Oregon's offense can get off to a fast start.
Everyone knows Oregon has as much speed as any team in the country. That much we know. But K-State also has the type of the offense that can negate that speed advantage by hitting Oregon in the mouth with their power running game. There's nothing finesse about what the Ducks will see when their on defense. The Wildcats will get their yards
The biggest question is going to be how KSU handles that speed when they're on defense. Oregon's good, really good, and have the type of explosiveness that can put the game out of reach in a hurry if Wildcats aren't assignment sound when they hit the field.
A Bill Snyder team not assignment sound with a month to prepare? Not likely to happen. They didn't win 11 games in the Big 12 by playing bad defense. They'll be ready.
Most of the pundits out there expect Oregon to win and maybe win big. It could happen, sure, except it won't.
The Wildcats balance on offense and better-than-you-think defense are going to be the difference. Klein will get his yards on the ground but he's also going to hit some big plays in the passing game to a couple very underrated KSU receivers.
Oregon has been in one close game this season and they lost. Kansas State makes a living winning close games and they'll do again against the fourth ranked team in the country. Kansas State 34 Oregon 30.
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
TCU (7-5) vs. Michigan State (6-6)
Michigan State enters Saturday night's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl with a 6-6 record and didn't lock up bowl eligibility until their final game of the season when they beat Minnesota, 26-10.
All told, it was a rather disappointing season for the Spartan's who were expected to contend for the Big Ten title entering the season. It wasn't to be for Michigan State, however, as they couldn't find a way to win close games decided in the fourth quarter. They lost to Ohio State by one, Iowa by three, Michigan by two, Nebraska by four and Northwestern by three.
Even with six losses on the season, don't expect the Spartans to roll over and play dead when they take the field against TCU. Michigan State happens to have a pretty salty defense that ranks 10th in the country allowing just 16.3 points per game and fourth in the country allowing a paltry 273 yards per game.
Michigan State's defense is led by linebacker Max Bullough who finished the season with a team high 102 tackles and tied for the team lead with 12.5 tackles-for-loss with defensive end William Gholston.
The Spartan's will enter the game without one of their best players in the secondary, however with All-Big Ten cornerback Johnny Adams expected to miss the game because of a turf toe injury. He is expected to be replaced in the game by redshirt freshman Trae Williams who has seen action in eight games so far this season totaling just two tackles.
TCU will counter Michigan State's strong defense with an offense that has been hit or miss for most of the season.
The Horned Frogs finished the season averaging 29.3 points per game. They've been led for most of the season by redshirt freshman quarterback Trevone Boykin following the dismissal of Casey Pachall four games into the season.
Boykin has struggled at times with his consistency but is a dynamic playmaker that will give Michigan State plenty to worry about having to defend against his running ability while trying to stay with some very talented TCU receivers in Josh Boyce, Brandon Carter, Skye Dawson and LaDarius Brown.
Saturday's game will have distinct Big Ten feel to it with field position, turnovers, and defense playing big roles in a game the oddsmakers have set the over/under at of 40 points, the lowest total of any bowl game this season.
That would seem to favor Michigan State, but Gary Patterson's team is more than capable of strapping it up and playing smash mouth football for 60 minutes, more so than most of the teams in the Big 12.
Onto the keys of the game.
Who wins the battle on third downs?
TCU's defense allows it opponents to complete just 29.6% of their third down conversions. Michigan State's defense is equally as impressive on third down allowing a conversion rate of 30.9%. Whichever offense has the most success in converting those third downs into first downs stands a strong chance of winning Saturday night.
Michigan State, Keys to Victory:
1. Score. Seems simple, right? It hasn't been so simple for Michigan State's offense this season, however. The Spartans have scored more than 30 points just twice this season (against Central Michigan and Indiana). They average just 20.2 points per game and if they can get to the mark against TCU, it stands to reason they'll be close when the final gun sounds.
2. Get Le'Veon Bell the ball early and often. If Michigan State is going to move the ball on Saturday, it's going to have come from Bell who has 1,648 yards rushing on the season. It won't be easy against Gary Patterson's defense who has allowed just 103 yards per game on the ground this year, but then again, it's rarely been easy for MSU's offense in 2012.
3. Turnovers. TCU's defense forced 32 turnovers this season good for seventh in the country. If Michigan State gives the ball up to TCU on Saturday, well, their chances of winning aren't very good.
TCU, Keys to the Game:
1. Stop the running game. If TCU is able to keep Bell in check, they'll keep Michigan State in check. Quarterback Andrew Maxwell and the Spartans passing game has struggled this season with MSU completing just 52% of their passes so you can bet Patterson's crew will do whatever necessary to force Maxwell to win the game with his arm.
2. Boykin will need to make plays in the passing game. TCU's running game this year hasn't been the typical TCU ground game we've become accustomed to seeing due to suspensions and injuries and getting it going against the Spartan defense isn't going to be a walk in the park. That means Boykin will need to be at his best throwing the ball to keep the chains moving for the Horned Frogs.
3. Control field position. TCU should have the edge in special teams thanks to solid coverage in the kicking game and a better than average punt return unit that ranks 13th in the country averaging 13.5 yards per return. If their able to keep the field position battle in their favor, Michigan State's offense will be forced to string together long drives which is something they've struggle to do on a consistent basis.
Points will be at a premium at Sun Devil Stadium Saturday night. A muffed punt here or a big run there could be the difference between riding the momentum of a bowl win into winter conditioning or wondering where things went wrong.
Both defenses are very, very, good, but it will be the balance in TCU's offensive attack that will be the difference.
Boykin will make a couple big plays with his legs and do just enough in the passing game to send TCU to their first bowl victory as a member of the Big 12.
On the other side, TCU's defense will hold Bell to 100 yards on the ground and Michigan State's punter will see a lot of action as a result. Horned Frogs win. TCU 24 Michigan State 13.
When it comes to bowl games, there's the actual game and then there's all the other activities players get to take part in as part of the pregame festivities.
For Iowa State and Tulsa, those activites included a rib eating contest as part of the Liberty's Bowl team welcome party Thursday night.
Representing Iowa State was starting offensive lineman, Ethan Tuftee, who is listed at 6'4" and 310 pounds although after this, that weight number may need to be adjusted just a bit.
Tulsa was presented by reserve offensive lineman, Alec Henry. Both players raced to see who could down 20 ribs in the fastest time and judging by the looks of those ribs, they didn't exactly skimp on the meat.
Tuftee took home the title finishing his 20 ribs in a mere 22 minutes and 45 seconds. As a result, Tuftee can add an official Liberty Bowl Fender guitar to the package of gifts given to every player as part of their bowl game package (the Liberty Bowl's gift package this year included: Sol Republic Tracks HD Anthem headphones, Bulova watch, Nike athletic shoes and sandals, Nike sunglasses, Nike backpack, football).
The welcome party also included an XBox competition with Iowa State's Henry Simon knocking off Tulsa's Try Watts in NCAA football 2013, 29-28, converting a two point conversion in the game's first overtime for the victory.
Tulsa wasn't about to be shutout on the night, however. The Golden Hurricane's scored a victory in the singing competition with Michale Mudoh winning the six person competition with his rendition of Amazing Grace (no video has been posted of the singing portion that I could find).
As for Tufte, he still has a few days to work off the extra calories with the Liberty Bowl set to kick off New Year's Eve at 2:30 (CST) in Memphis.
Iowa State enters the game as a one point favorite in a rematch from the season opener when the Cyclones knocked off Tulsa, 38-23, at Jack Trice Stadium.