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Alabama RB Mark Ingram set to play childhood team

Mark Ingram's Michigan State ties run deep.

The Alabama tailback and Flint, Mich., native easily rattles off a litany of family connections: His parents went to Michigan State, where his father and grandfather played football; his aunt is also an MSU grad and his grandmother received a master's degree.

Ingram could very easily have been suiting up in green and white not crimson and white when the Crimson Tide and Spartans meet Saturday in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla.

"I still cheer for them when I see them on Saturdays, especially in basketball," Ingram said. "It'll just be exciting to go up against a childhood favorite team."

The game features plenty of ties between the two programs, besides Ingram. Saban and tight end coach Bobby Williams are both former Michigan State head coaches and Tide offensive coordinator Jim McElwain is an ex-Spartans assistant.

"We get fired up because coach Saban was there and coach Bobby Williams was there and our offensive coordinator was there," said Trent Richardson, Ingram's backfield mate. "So you have to really realize that it means a lot to them. At the same time, we don't want to go out with a loss."

It could be the final college game for Ingram. The junior and 2009 Heisman Trophy winner is projected as a likely first-round NFL draft pick. Ingram has said he hasn't made up his mind yet on whether to skip his senior season but will sit down with his family and coach Nick Saban after the game, "and we'll make a decision."

The other big decision a few years ago seems to have worked out well for Ingram, whose college choice came down to Alabama, Iowa and Michigan State. The player who once asked his parents for Michigan State sheets for Christmas and slept under a green and white bedspread helped lead the Tide to a national title last season and became the program's first Heisman winner in the process.

Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said there are no hard feelings toward his onetime recruit.

"As I said to all recruits, you have to make up your own mind, you have to live your own life," Dantonio said. "We do not pressure players to come to school here. I don't believe in that. When he made the decision to go to Alabama, we wished him the best. He's done an outstanding job. Very proud of what he's been able to accomplish.

"There's no hard feelings whatsoever. But we would have loved to have him here. If we get him, we probably don't have Edwin Baker and Larry Caper the next year. It goes back and forth."

Ingram said he called Saban to commit to Alabama on Super Bowl Sunday in 2008.

"I think I called him at halftime," he said. "All the coaches were at the house. All of them were excited."

At the time, it might not have seemed like that big a coup. Scout.com rated Ingram as a three-star prospect and only the nation's 57th-best running back.

"I think he was relatively an unknown to some degree within the national spotlight," Dantonio said. "Not that he didn't have a great junior year, but he wasn't getting as much hype maybe. All you had to do was watch a little bit of film on him and you saw what he was capable of doing."

Ingram was a significant contributor as a freshman for Alabama, then rushed for a school-record 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns last season.

The follow-up hasn't been as successful. Ingram missed the first two games with a knee injury, then promptly thrust himself back into the Heisman conversation with 308 yards and four touchdowns against Duke and Arkansas.

The yards have been much harder to come by since then. He has averaged just 4.5 yards per carry over the eight games since, running for 508 yards and failing to reach triple digits in any of them.

The normally sure-handed Ingram even had a costly fumble in the Iron Bowl when Auburn defensive end Antoine Carter popped the ball loose at the end of a long run. The play helped the Tigers rally from a 24-0 deficit to win.

It was only Ingram's second lost fumble in 38 games and 621 touches in his Alabama career. He's not letting it gnaw at him.

"That stuff happens. The guy made a great play," Ingram said. "I was trying to make a play, trying to keep my balance. The ball was really tucked OK. It wasn't really out there. The guy just made a good play."

Now, Ingram is hoping for a better finish to his season — and perhaps his Alabama career — against the team he grew up rooting for in a house that "had Michigan State stuff all over."

There's no doubt of his allegiance these days.

"Everything in the house is crimson now," Ingram said.

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AP Sports Writer Noah Trister in East Lansing, Mich., contributed to this report.