Holiday Bowl: Can Washington State avoid two Holiday Bowl losses in two years?

Dr. Saturday
(AP Photo/Young Kwak, File)
(AP Photo/Young Kwak, File)

San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl
No. 16 Michigan State (9-3) vs. No. 18 Washington State (9-3)
Dec. 28, 9 p.m. ET, San Diego (FS1)
Pick em, O/U: 46

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

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Michigan State: The Spartans rebounded nicely after winning just three games in 2016. MSU started the season 5-1 and beat Michigan, which was then-ranked No. 7, for the eighth time in the last 10 seasons. The Spartans later upset Penn State to jump into the thick of things in the Big Ten East, but their division title chances were squashed the following weekend against Ohio State. From there, wins over Maryland and Rutgers gave MSU at least nine wins for the seventh time in 11 years under Mark Dantonio.

Washington State: Washington State moved up to No. 8 in the rankings after a 6-0 start that included a 30-27 win over then-No. 5 USC. But the Cougars followed that win with a clunker, losing 37-3 on the road to Cal. Wazzu was up-and-down for the rest of the year but still had a chance to clinch the Pac-12 North with a win over rival Washington in the Apple Cup. That didn’t happen. WSU was blown out 41-14 in Seattle, sending Stanford to the Pac-12 title game instead.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Michigan State Kenny Willekes (48) tosses the ball to an official after recovering a fumble as teammate Demetrius Cooper (98) comes in to celebrate, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)
Michigan State Kenny Willekes (48) tosses the ball to an official after recovering a fumble as teammate Demetrius Cooper (98) comes in to celebrate, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

Kenny Willekes, DE, Michigan State: A former walk-on who barely played last year, Kenny Willekes emerged in a big way as a redshirt sophomore. The 6-foot-4, 244-pound Willekes was fourth on the Spartans with 69 tackles and led the team with 14.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks. He also had two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble on the year. His sack total tied for second in the Big Ten while his tackles for loss tied for third.

Luke Falk, QB, Washington State: Despite his propensity for some clunker performances, Luke Falk has had an outstanding career at Washington State. He arrived at Washington State as a walk-on and will leave Pullman with almost every major career passing record in Pac-12 history, including passing yards, touchdowns, completions, attempts and completion percentage. The senior enters the Holiday Bowl with 14,481 yards on 119 touchdowns on 1,403-of-2,054 (68.3 percent) throwing. This year, Falk has thrown for 3,593 yards and 30 touchdowns.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

Aside from it being Falk’s last collegiate game, Washington State will want to play much better than it did in last year’s Holiday Bowl when it lost 17-12 to an average-at-best Minnesota team. On the other side, Michigan State felt disrespected when rival Michigan was placed in the New Year’s Day Outback Bowl instead of MSU. Dantonio always uses that underdog mentality to get the best out of his team. And after missing a bowl last year and getting destroyed in the CFP semifinals in 2015, MSU should be ready to roll.

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

Washington State has been playing football for more than 100 years, but has only played in 13 bowl games. The Cougars are 7-6 in those games, including a 1-2 mark under Mike Leach. The Cougars won the 2015 Sun Bowl but lost in last year’s Holiday Bowl and the 2013 New Mexico Bowl. For Michigan State, a win would mark its first in a bowl since the dramatic comeback over Baylor in the 2014 Cotton Bowl. MSU is 4-5 in bowls under Mark Dantonio.

PREDICTIONS

Nick: Washington State 17, Michigan State 13
Sam: Michigan State 31, Washington State 28

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