Coaches and players are used to distractions that come with bowl games. But there's no way Michigan State and Texas Tech players can come to grips with what has happened before they meet Saturday in the Alamo Bowl.
Michigan State suspended eight players in December for their role in an on-campus fight with a fraternity. But that distraction isn't even in the same stratosphere as to what has happened at Texas Tech, which fired coach Mike Leach on Wednesday after his alleged mistreatment of a player. Defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill is serving as Tech's interim coach.
McNeill said he doesn't feel any pressure. "Pressure to me is growing up and we make $2,000 a month as a family and our bills are $3,000," McNeill said at a news conference Friday. "That's pressure."
But McNeill did admit the situation was akin to "going 95 miles per hour in a school zone. And I'm probably getting ready to get a ticket, so I'm sure the kids have been faced with a lot of things, as well."
WHO GETS THE EDGE?
Michigan State rush offense vs. Texas Tech rush defense: Michigan State has struggled to run consistently. The Spartans failed to reach 100 yards as a team in half of their final six regular-season games. The Red Raiders have been good against the run, but in the four losses, the run defense was bad. Edge: Texas Tech
WHEN: 9 p.m., Saturday.
WHERE: Alamodome, San Antonio.
TV: ESPN (Mike Patrick will do play-by-play, with TBA as the analyst).
THE LINE: Texas Tech by 7.5.
RECORDS VS. BOWL TEAMS: Michigan State 1-5, Texas Tech 2-4.
NCAA SCHEDULE STRENGTH: Michigan State 28th, Texas Tech T-61st.
BCS RANKINGS: Neither is ranked.
OFFICIALS: A crew from the SEC.
COACHES: Michigan State- Mark Dantonio (1-2 in bowls); Texas Tech- Ruffin McNeill (first bowl).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Come on - why wouldn't you want to watch? Just call this the "Train-Wreck Bowl." Michigan State has suspended eight players, including two key wide receivers. But Texas Tech has trumped that by firing coach Mike Leach. Craig James was supposed to be the ESPN analyst for this game. But James' son, Adam, was at the center of the controversy with Leach. There is no way ESPN can allow James to work this game.
KEY STATS: Texas Tech is second nationally in pass offense at 380.7 yards per game. Michigan State is 103rd in pass defense at 251.6 yards per game.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Michigan State LB Greg Jones is one of the nation's best at his position. But how much of an impact will he have? Texas Tech doesn't run that much, which means the bulk of Jones' time is going to be spent trying to defend the pass.
Michigan State pass offense vs. Texas Tech pass defense: Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins has thrown for 2,460 yards and 18 TDs, and is the major reason MSU leads the Big Ten in passing at 271.2 yards per game. But the Spartans will be without their No. 2 and No. 3 receivers, who have been suspended. TE Charlie Gantt becomes a more important weapon. WR Blair White has had a big season and could hurt Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have played OK against the pass. Their best weapon is their pass rush. Tech has 39 sacks, but Michigan State has given up just 13. Edge: Even
Texas Tech rush offense vs. Michigan State rush defense: Michigan State is good against the run. LB Greg Jones is a tackling machine and the leader of the defense. Texas Tech doesn't run much, as it is. Edge: Michigan State
Texas Tech pass offense vs. Michigan State pass defense: The Red Raiders have had to use three quarterbacks this season, and Taylor Potts will get the start in this one. He has thrown 20 TD passes, but at times, he has had trouble with his decision-making (he has also thrown 12 picks). Tech has five players with between 42 and 65 receptions, and Tech has thrown 35 TD passes. Michigan State has struggled mightily against the pass. Five opponents threw for more than 300 yards on the Spartans. Michigan State has a good pass rush and Tech has had all sots of trouble protecting the passer, so the Spartans need to produce in that department. Edge: Texas Tech
Michigan State special teams vs. Texas Tech special teams: Spartans K Brett Swenson is one of the best in the nation; he is 18-of-20, with a long of 52. P Aaron Bates has been solid. Michigan State has been excellent on kick returns but merely adequate on punt coverage, kick coverage and punt returns. Texas Tech K Matt Williams is 9-for-11 but his range extends to just 40 or so yards. KR Eric Stephens is solid, but as with Michigan State, the punt coverage, kick coverage and punt returns have been average. The punting also has been average. Edge: Michigan State
Michigan State coaching staff vs. Texas Tech coaching staff: Michigan State has had a disappointing season, but coach Mark Dantonio has a solid staff. Offensive coordinator Don Treadwell has done a nice job with the passing game. Leach's firing obviously shakes things up for Tech. He doubles as the offensive coordinator, so the play calling bears watching. Edge: Michigan State
X-factor: Michigan State is missing some key players, but Texas Tech has gone through an unreal soap opera that resulted in the firing of its coach. Texas Tech's mindset is huge.
Michigan State will win if: The Spartans need to be aggressive in their play calling and rely on their passing game - even if they're without two of their best receivers. The Spartans' rushing attack isn't going to win this game.
Texas Tech will win if: The Red Raiders are the better team, but that won't matter if they don't show up mentally. Tech should throw and throw, then throw some more. Michigan State can't win a shootout.
EXPERT PICKS Olin Buchanan: Texas Tech 38, Michigan State 24
Tom Dienhart: Texas Tech 44, Michigan State 28
David Fox: Texas Tech 35, Michigan State 10
Mike Huguenin: Texas Tech 40, Michigan State 27
Steve Megargee: Texas Tech 34, Michigan State 13
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.