Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, December 6, 2015

I thought Michigan State would jump from No. 5 to No. 3 after it toppled unbeaten Iowa in the Big Ten title game on Saturday night in Indianapolis. And, the College Football Playoff committee did just that, setting up a meeting with No. 2 Alabama in the Cotton Bowl in a national semifinal game.

[ MORE: View the full 2015-16 bowl schedule | Final CFP rankings ]

No. 1 Clemson plays No. 4 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl in the other national semifinal game.

This will be the Spartans? first trip to the playoffs, which are in just their second season. Alabama was in the inaugural playoff as a No. 1 seed, falling to No. 4 Ohio State-which went on to beat Oregon in the title game and win the national championship.

Michigan State will be an underdog vs. Alabama. But the Spartans won?t be fazed by the Crimson Tide. MSU has been a resilient bunch all season, overcoming myriad injuries and finding a way to win road games at Michigan and at Ohio State, a game which QB Connor Cook missed with injury. Then, the Spartans closed the season by dumping 12-0 Iowa on a neutral field. This team just finds a way to win.

This meeting with Alabama also will reunite Tide coach Nick Saban with Michigan State, where he coached from 1995-99 and went 34-24-1 overall and 23-16-1 in the Big Ten with four bowl bids in five seasons before leaving for LSU. Saban faced MSU as Bama coach in the Capital One Bowl after the 2010 season, hammering the Spartans, 49-7.

The best matchup in this Cotton Bowl will be Alabama star running back Derrick Henry vs. the Michigan State front seven. Henry may be the Heisman front-runner, as he paces the nation with 1,986 yards rushing and 23 TD. The 6-3, 242-pound junior is battering ram with speed who will face one of the top defensive lines in the nation led by end Shilique Calhoun and tackle Malik McDowell. Michigan State is No. 7 in the nation vs. the run (113.1 ypg).

A big key for Michigan State will be how well it can run vs. Bama, which may have the best front seven in the Saban era. The Tide is No. 1in the nation vs. the run, allowing only 74.0 ypg, 2.38 ypc and six rushing TDs. Can LJ Scott, the star of the Big Ten title game, get traction vs. the Bama front?

Bottom line: This Cotton Bowl probably will come down to which team can get its running game established.


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