The TCU Horned Frogs and Michigan St. Spartans landed in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl mainly because they couldn’t land in a more high-profile game. After both teams have experienced successful runs over the past few seasons, both had a drop-off this season; the Horned Frogs finished 7-5 and 4-5 in their first season in the Big 12 while the Spartans finished 6-6 and 3-5 in the Big Ten. The moral to both teams’ seasons: you have to finish games.
All of the Horned Frogs heartbreak came in conference play. Against the Iowa St. Cyclones, the Horned Frogs played close until the final quarter where they allowed two touchdowns and let that game literally slip away. The Texas Tech Red Raiders put the Horned Frogs through a massively entertaining and high-scoring shootout that went into overtime. After a thrilling extension to the game, the Red Raiders ended up with a 56-53 win. The Horned Frogs did have things go their way in a one-point overtime win over the West Virginia Moutaineers, but squandered any momentum a win like that could have provided in the next few weeks. The Horned Frogs played decent against the Kansas St. Wildcats and played close with the Oklahoma Sooners, but ended up on the losing end in both games.
The Spartans suffered much crueler fates during conference play. Of course, all of that came after the 20-3 drubbing they experienced at home against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in September. That loss actually turned out to be a kinder defeat because the game was practically over at halftime. The Spartans’ losses in conference were close and late and heartbreaking each time.
The Spartans’ loss to the Ohio St. Buckeyes was the only close loss that the Spartans didn’t specifically let slip away late in the game. The Buckeyes’ 17-16 win came in a game that was dominated by defense throughout. It ended up being the Buckeyes’ defense making a few stops in the fourth quarter that decided this one. Against the Iowa Hawkeyes, it was a fourth quarter collapse in a low-scoring game the Spartans had control of that sent the game into overtime where the Spartans continued their collapse all the way to a loss. The Spartans would lose to the Michigan Wolverines and Nebraska Cornhuskers soon after. Against the Wolverines, it was a last-second field-goal that beat the Spartans while the Cornhuskers won on a touchdown pass from Taylor Martinez with under ten seconds to play. And finally, their 23-20 loss to the Northwestern Wildcats was another close game where the Spartans faltered in the fourth quarter; the Wildcats’ scored the game-winning field-goal with half of the final quarter left to play.
Just like the Horned Frogs, the Spartans did get thrown a bone by fate and scored two wins in games they didn’t play well in. In their win over the Indiana Hoosiers, the Spartans had to come back from a 13-point halftime deficit while having to shutout the Hoosiers in the second half to do it. Against the Wisconsin Badgers, the Spartans needed a last-minute touchdown to send a game into overtime that the Badgers should have had wrapped up long before. In overtime, Bennie Fowler caught a bullet from Andrew Maxwell for a touchdown to give the Spartans the win. This particular one disgusted me as a Wisconsin native and Badgers supporter considering how well the Badgers’ defense played for the first 59 minutes, but they couldn’t get the necessary offensive support to put the game away. Story of the Badgers’ season.
The benefit for those watching this game is that if the game is close entering the fourth quarter, all bets are off. Also, based on the seasons these two teams have had, the game would be likely heading to overtime if it is close after three quarters. This is the kind of stuff that people look for in a bowl game: close score, plenty of suspense, and a decent contrast in styles; the Horned Frogs are one dimensional on offense with their passing while the Spartans rely on their running game while still throwing the ball. It may not be the most marquee or high-profile bowl game nor does it feature any marquee or high-profile teams from this season, but this could be a bowl game that is decided on the final play. With these two teams, that would be a fitting finish to their respective seasons.