EAST LANSING - Michigan State (6-6, 3-5) and TCU (7-5, 4-5) led their respective conferences in total defense during the regular season and each program has struggled on offense at times during the 2012 season.
That seems like a recipe for a low-scoring defensive standoff when the Spartans and Horned Frogs meet in Tempe, Ariz., at Sun Devil Stadium on Dec. 29 in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Not so fast, says TCU coach Gary Patterson.
"I've always said you've got to be careful what you talk about because usually it changes when you give two teams a month to prepare for a bowl game," said Patterson. "They said when I played in the Rose Bowl that it was going to be a scoring fest and it ended up 21-19. For us, we want to find a way to win a bowl game. But I don't know about a defensive struggle."
Michigan State lost five games by a combined 12 points during Big Ten play in 2012. A scoring offense ranked No. 107 in the FBS is a big reason why Michigan State is playing its bowl game before the New Year.
"We have to score more effectively in the red zone and again that's one the reasons why our games have been so close," said Spartan coach Mark Dantonio. "We do some things well, we've got to do some other things better. We will try and fix those things as we move forward."
Lack of experience at the skill positions on offense is something Dantonio is less concerned about now than he was in September.
"We lost 95 percent of our passing offense from last year, whether it be the quarterback, two tight ends, and three wide receivers, and a tailback as well," Dantonio said. "Our guys came in inexperienced and I think there was room for growth and there was a big learning curve. I think we are past that. I think we have guys now who will catch the ball and have confidence in themselves and I think that is showing toward the end of the season."
Michigan State junior Andrew Maxwell completed 228-of-431 passes for 2,578 yards and 13 touchdowns with 9 interceptions.
"Maxwell is a guy that had limited playing time, but he has great leadership skills and he is calm under pressure," said Dantonio. "Nevertheless, I think there was a growing period there early in the season."
Maxwell took over for record-setter Kirk Cousins, who led the Spartans to back-to-back 11-win seasons as a junior and senior.
Redshirt freshman Trevone Boykin replaced troubled junior Casey Pachall as TCU's starting quarterback four games into the 2012 season.
"Obviously, there was a little bit of a rough patch," said Patterson, "but a big overtime win at West Virginia and then we also beat Texas in Austin, which was a big win for us here ... Really, he hasn't matured. But it is hard to give up a junior that had been 11-2 and then also was 4-0 in this season."
Bowl practice should benefit Boykin.
"I think this month of December will really give him a chance to step back and get 13 or 14 practices under his belt to make him better," Patterson said. "It is going to help him quite a bit to be able to do that. Obviously, he got us back to a bowl game which was something of a concern from the beginning."
TCU averaged 28 points per game with Boykin in the starting lineup. The Horned Frogs were 3-5 in the games that the redshirt freshman started in 2012.
"That will be our challenge, produce points against a group that hasn't given up a lot of points this season," said Patterson. "We have quite a challenge on our hands."
Dantonio sees big-play potential from Horned Frog offense based on limited film study.
"Both teams have great defenses, but I think both teams also possess some skill on the offensive side of the ball," Dantonio said. "And we've seen a glimpse of TCU on offense and they have an exciting offense, a quarterback that creates, outstanding wide receivers, a very athletic offensive line. I am sure they will be difficult to stop. You never know how games are going to play out, that's why you play the game."
The physicality of the Michigan State on offense will challenge TCU. Limiting the production of All-Big Ten tailback Le'Veon Bell will be a goal for the Horned Frogs.
"We already knew about Bell," said Patterson. "(They have) a good offensive line, big tight ends, we have our hands full obviously. One of the bigger teams that we are going to play this year. We are physically going to have to get ready for this ballgame."
The Horned Frogs slowed down Wisconsin's powerful ground game in the Rose Bowl two years ago, joining Michigan State as the only team to defeat the Badgers in 2010. But Patterson does not view his team's success against Wisconsin as an advantage in preparing for Michigan State.
"Everybody is different," Patterson said. "It is really hard to compare different football teams. Obviously, Bell has run for almost 1,600 yards so he is very good. Probably the difference is that he carries the main load and that you had to see two or three different tailbacks with Wisconsin, where all were a little bit different. Both are very powerful. Both can come right at you. Both play-action you."
Patterson hopes that playing Michigan State in the final game of 2012 will give his team an edge in its prep for LSU in the 2013 season opener.
"We don't see as much of the big groupings in the Big XII," said Patterson. "That is one of those things that will be good to see during bowl practice because we have LSU starting off the year next season so it will be a good 1-2 punch."
Dantonio and Patterson are friends within the coaching profession.
"Coach Dantonio and I are good friends," said Patterson. "He and I have talked to each other about football quite a bit ... We've been going on Nike trips together, he and his wife. We've really gotten to the point where we know each other pretty well. I Really like him, as far as the kind of man that he is and what he stands for."
Dantonio values Patterson's friendship.
"We have always enjoyed each other's company out there," said Dantonio. "He is a great guy, obviously a great football coach. We had an opportunity to participate against him when I was in Conference USA with Cincinnati when TCU was still in that conference. He is an excellent football coach, his players are well-disciplined. They play extremely hard, with toughness. I think there is a lot of similarities in terms of the things that we believe in."
Patterson and Dantonio have kicked ideas off one another on occasion.
"Just philosophy of how you do your offseason, different things like that," said Patterson. "Both places have been successful so how do you run your program and how do you get your kids to play hard and those kinds of questions."
Patterson expects a challenge.
"You've got to get ready to play," said Patterson. "They've been to bowl games, they understand the importance of winning, and this team will be no different."