NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS (9-3)
vs. MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS (8-4)
Gator Bowl - Jacksonville, FL
Kickoff: Tuesday, 12:00 p.m. EDT
Line: Mississippi State -2, Total: 52
Northwestern tries to end an enormously long bowl drought when it takes on Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville on New Year's Day.
Northwestern looks for its first bowl win since 1949, as the school has lost nine straight bowl games by an average margin of 13.4 PPG (42 to 29 avg. score). Mississippi State is just the opposite, riding a five-game bowl winning streak by an average margin of 12.6 PPG (29 to 16 avg. score). The Wildcats are just 4-3 SU since October, but are 11-1 ATS for the season. Venric Mark (109 rush YPG) leads the nationís 11th-best ground game (231 YPG). The Bulldogs have dropped four of five (SU and ATS), surrendering 37+ points in each of the four losses. But they have a +17 turnover margin, forcing 3+ TO in seven games.
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Northwestern hasn't been able to win any of its four straight bowl appearances, but it has covered the spread in three of those SU defeats. If it can finally end its nine-game bowl losing skid, it will win 10 games for the first time since the 1995 season. The game plan for Northwestern will likely be another heavy dose of Venric Mark who has eight 100-yard rushing games this season. He's also a great special teams contributor with two punt returns for touchdowns and 171 all-purpose YPG (9th in nation). Mark is the biggest reason why his team averages 231 rushing YPG on 5.0 YPC, but QB Kain Colter also knows how to scramble, rushing for 820 yards with a team-high 12 TD scampers. Although he attempts just 11.2 passes per game, Colter doesn't waste his opportunities with a 69% completion rate and 3 TD tosses in the regular season finale versus Illinois, a resounding 50-14 victory. Northwestern also uses sophomore QB Trevor Siemian under center for a good chunk of the time. He's played in every game, totaling 1,192 passing yards, 6 TD and 2 INT. The Wildcats defense is a bit underrated, especially in stopping the run where they rank 18th in the nation with just 124 rushing YPG allowed on 3.6 yards per carry. Although Northwestern allows a robust 262 passing YPG, it has picked off six passes over the past three contests.
Mississippi State began the season 7-0 SU (5-2 ATS), but ran into major trouble against elite SEC teams, losing to Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU by a combined score of 113 to 37. The Bulldogs also gave up 41 points in the season finale at rival Ole Miss. But when it comes to winning bowls, the Bulldogs are tied for the nation's longest streak with five straight wins, having not left a postseason game with a loss since 1999. Current head coach Dan Mullen has guided the team to two straight bowl wins, crushing Michigan in the 2011 Gator Bowl, 52-14, and edging Wake Forest 23-17 in last year's Music City Bowl. The big injury question for MSU is the status of QB Tyler Russell's sprained ankle he sustained in the loss to Ole Miss. He will start this game, but it's unclear how effective he'll be. Freshman QB Dak Prescott has proven to be a capable backup with four touchdown passes and four touchdown runs. Both quarterbacks will be looking for WR Chad Bumphis as the first option in the passing game, as the All-SEC performer has 904 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns this year. MSU's ground game isn't anything to brag about (140 YPG, 4.3 YPC), but LaDarius Perkins can be a dangerous ball carrier with 940 yards and 8 TD for the season, but he has gone four straight games without scoring a touchdown. One of Perkins' backups, sophomore RB Nick Griffin, tore his ACL in practice on Dec. 8, which could allow more carries for RBs Josh Robinson and Derrick Milton. On defense, MSU leans heavily on its secondary to make plays, most notably Jim Thorpe Award winner Johnthan Banks (59 tackles, 4 INT) and fellow senior Darius Slay (5 INT).