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Gator Bowl preview

College Bowl season continues, we're on the home straight now, not too many left.. Here's another preview by James Jack, @materialista27. Read more of his work on his dedicated College Bowl site.

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TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl

Tuesday January 1st, 12:00 ET (17:00 GMT)
Everbank Field, Jacksonville, Florida
Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. (20)Northwestern Wildcats


The Gator Bowl has been played continuously since 1946 in Florida and with the exception of 1994, it has been played in the city of Jackosnville. This bowl was the first in history to be televised nationally and it comes with a $2.5m payout for each team involved. The Gator Bowl features the 6th team from the SEC and the 4th team from the Big-Ten depending on BCS eligibility. Last year's game was known as either the Traitor Bowl or the Savior Bowl depending on your allegiance, I prefer to call it the Urban Meyer Bowl as it featured his previous team the Florida Gators and his new team, those Ohio State Suckeyes.

Mississippi State come into the game off a respectable 8-4 season, starting like a house on fire 7-0 but they finished 1-4, losing to (2)Alabama, (8)LSU and (9)Texas A&M back-to-back-to-back and finished with a disappointing loss to the Ole Miss Rebels. That record is partially misleading as despite playing in the SEC, the Bulldogs only beat one team with a winning FBS record. Despite their deficiencies in the second half of the season, QB Tyler Russell has passed for 2791 yards and 2 TDs, but he sprained his ankle in the defeat to Ole Miss and although he's expected to be fine for this game, questions will be raised if the Wildcats can put him on his backside a few times. Chad Bumphis has made an impact in his final season with the Bulldogs, doubling his career TD total to 24 and adding 904 yards to bring his career to an end with 2252 yards, setting a new school record in the process. Ladarius Perkins has reached nearly 1000 yards on the ground and has added 8 TDs giving the Bulldogs some semblance of balance on offense, which could be crucial in this match-up.

The Wildcats started 5-0 including wins over Syracuse and Vanderbilt out of the gate, then they split their next 6 games, losing to Penn State, Nebraska and Michigan before bouncing back to win in East Lansing and finished with a blow-out of Illinois to finish 9-3. A win in this game would give Northwestern their first 10 win season since 1995. Like many of the top academic schools, the Wildcats run the ball very well and junior running back Venric Mark somehow racked up 1310 yards and 11 touchdowns, despite his tiny 5'8” 175lbs frame, something he'll have to work on if he wants to play on Sundays. Kain Coulter will most likely get the start at QB and he's been almost surgical with the ball in his hands with a 68.7% completion rate for 8 TDs and nearly 800 yards. He's also been a threat out of the backfield picking up another 12 touchdowns and piling up 820 yards. Trevor Siemian has taken some of the load off Coulter as a quarterback and has thrown for 1192 yards and another 6 touchdowns. Let's not kid ourselves though, Northwestern will try to run the ball all day and their 14th ranked rushing offense (230.9 yards) will match up well against Mississippi State's 71st ranked rushing defense, surrendering 166 yards.

FOR MISS STATE TO WIN
Forget about the last five games of the season and pretend they are 7-0. The Bulldogs had a lot of confidence early in the season and if they can regain that, they may be able to produce enough offense to win this game. They have to find a way to stop the Wildcats' running game and a big part of that will be linebacker Cameron Lawrence.

FOR NORTHWESTERN TO WIN
Run the ball. Hard. If they can establish the running game early then they'll have success towards the end of the game. Nothing tires a defense like run defense and if Northwestern have their way, that's what the Bulldogs will be doing all day. They have a top 20 rushing attack and they need to use both Mark and Colter to move the defense around the field.

VERDICT The running game of Northwestern will continue to frustrate Mississippi State and as long as they can keep the chains moving and pick up points when they're on offer, they'll have the best of this match-up.

ADVICE
Northwestern -2
Over 54 points

DRINKING GAME
1 drink: Either team records a sack
2 drinks: Northwestern finish any quarter with more passing yards than rushing yards
Finish it: Any mention of Urban Meyer

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