It’s the Holiday season, so it’s also a fitting time to talk all things Holiday Bowl too. It also means talking Big Ten in the bowl season and that’s what we’re here to do this week.
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While the conference champion, Ohio State, was passed over for the College Football Playoff, there are still plenty of things to love about bowl season if you’re a fan of a team in or of the conference as a whole.
Up next on our week-long look at the Big Ten in bowl season is my personal favorite non-Rose Bowl game — the Holiday Bowl.
It’s a game featuring the team who finished just behind Ohio State in the East division, and that would be a resurgent Michigan State Spartans squad.
So, why should you be tuning in even if you aren’t the Go Green, Go White type? We’ve got 5 reasons for you.
Wazzu Offense, Meet MSU Defense
Sometimes style-clashes make for really bad bowl games, and then there’s the rare occasion in which those opposing styles make for must-see TV. Such is the case with the Holiday Bowl this year, as the high-flying offense of Washington State takes on the Spartan Dawg defense.
After a season of struggles, Michigan State’s defense returned to its much more normal nasty self in 2017. MSU allowed jus over a touchdown less on defense this season (27.8 to 20.3 points per game), while also finishing second in the Big Ten in rush defense (101.2 yards per game) and gave up just 13 passing touchdowns to 13 interceptions on the season.
Washington State’s offense kept it’s reputation for big numbers alive too. Senior quarterback Luke Falk passed for over 3,500 yards and had 30 touchdowns to 13 interceptions on the season. That was good enough for the No. 2 passing offense in the country this season.
Those 13 interceptions by Michigan State vs. the pass-happy Mike Leach offense? Something will have to give between these two, so who will blink first and open the floodgates to the other? It’s the answer that should have you tuning in .
Two Words: Mike Leach
There simply isn’t a more honest and less self-important head coach in college football than Washington State’s Mike Leach. He’s also perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea.
He’s certainly a thinking-man’s coach.
But, if you are looking for entertainment value, he’s your guy. Whether it is innovating offense or hilariously awkward press conferences, Leach has you covered. Should this game get out of hand one way or the other, Leach should there to keep us all entertained.
Crazy Finishes Are the Norm for Holiday Bowl
If the Spartans and Cougars aren’t your fancy this bowl season, just remember that the Holiday Bowl has a long and storied history of some of the best finishes and craziest moments in bowl game history.
Each of the last three games, not coincidentally featuring the first of the Big Ten tie-in games, have been ones that were won by under a touchdown. Nebraska lost a three-point offensive slugfest in 2014 to USC, Wisconsin got revenge on the Trojans win a 23-21 win the next season and last year saw Minnesota upset these very same Washington State Cougars.
Add in some of the craziest bowl game finishes, comebacks and upsets in history and this one has a reputation for expecting and delivering the unexpected.
With one high-powered offense and a pair of good defenses in the mix, who knows what will happen in San Diego on Dec. 28.
Washington State is No Slouch on Defense Either
Lest you believe only one team can play defense, Wazzu had one of the best defensive groups in the Pac-12 this season. It isn’t all flash on offense and winning crazy high-scoring affairs in Pullman, Wash. these days.
The Cougars allowed just 24.4 points per game in the scoring-happy Pac-12 (which has nothing on the Big 12), while allowing teams to rush for just 146.1 yards per game (4th in the Pac-12) and ranking No. 1 in the conference against the pass (167.4).
Can Lewerke Do It All Against a Top Team Again?
While the Big Ten’s Quarterback of the Year was OSU’s dual-threat J.T. Barrett, one could argue few quarterbacks meant as much to their team as MSU’s Brian Lewerke did in 2017.
Lewerke came out of nowhere as a dual-threat option and a really good one at that. So much so that he led the Spartans in rushing until a late burst by running back L.J. Scott. Lewerke finished the 2017 season with 486 yards and 5 touchdowns on the ground.
But, he wasn’t just a revelation on the ground, as he completed nearly 60 percent of his passes for over 2,500 yards and 17 touchdowns to just 7 interceptions. It was his combination of rushing ability and passing prowess that made him a dangerous quarterback and something the Spartans really haven’t had a quarterback for most of the Dantonio era.
We also saw Lewerke do some of his best work late in the season against two of the better Big Ten defenses in back-to-back games against Northwestern and Penn State. He had a combined 845 yards and 6 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions.
But, he also had a bad day against Michigan, throwing for just 94 yards in the bitter in-state rivalry game.
Overall, Lewerke put this offense on his back for most of the season, but doing that one more time against a really good run defense should be interesting to say the least.
Who: Michigan State (9-3) vs. Washington State (9-3)
When: Dec. 28, 9 p.m. ET (FS1)
Where: SDCCU Stadium, San Diego, CA