It's Alabama

TUSCALOOSA AL - NOVEMBER 26: Mark Ingram #22 of the Alabama Crimson Tide rushes for a touchdown against the Auburn Tigers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 26 2010 in Tuscaloosa Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Michigan State will play in the Citrus Bowl Stadium for the third time in four years, this time against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Capital One Bowl.  It's a New Year's Day game, so set your DVRs for a 1 P.M. kickoff on ESPN.  Or, hey, if sunny weather, Mickey Mouse, and chain restaurants are more your thing, head down to Orlando and see it in person.

This will be the first-ever meeting between Your Spartans and the Crimson Tide, and there certainly is no shortage of storylines surrounding this game: MSU being the highest-rated team left out of the BCS, the Big Ten's uphill climb toward respectability vis-a-vis the SEC, Alabama rebounding from a devastating Iron Bowl loss, Mark Ingram playing against his father's school (and the school he very nearly attended . . . sigh.).  Nick Saban facing his old school is certainly the biggest story of the bunch.  There are many MSU fans who harbor plenty of resentment toward Saban (or $aban, as they would no doubt say).  Personally, I'm not one of them; it's been more than a decade since he left East Lansing, and I was only a casual MSU fan when it happened.  But, it's the story that the media will be focusing on, and it does add a bit of additional intrigue to the game.

In four years, Mark Dantonio has won a Big Ten title, compiled an enviable record in rivalry games, and moved MSU toward the upper echelon of the Big Ten.  The only major accomplishment still left unchecked is a bowl win; given that MSU has been matched up against one of the sport's highest-profile teams, Dantonio has an opportunity to get that monkey off his back in a highly-emphatic fashion.  But it won't be easy.  Alabama's three losses have all come against good teams (South Carolina, LSU, and Auburn), and in their only Big Ten matchup this season, tthey easily handled Penn State, 24-3.  Alabama has a highly athletic defense, two of the best running backs in all of college football (Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson), a big-play wide receiver (Julio Jones), and a highly efficient quarterback (Greg McElroy).  MSU is likely to be at least a touchdown underdog in this game -- a role they're familiar with, as they have been significant bowl underdogs in each of the past three seasons.

We'll have much more about the game over the next few weeks.  For now, visit our sister site Roll Bama Roll for more on the Crimson Tide, vote in the poll below, and share your thoughts in the comments.

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