Mississippi State is headed back to Jacksonville, Fla.
The Bulldogs (8-4) have been selected to play in the Gator Bowl, it was announced today. They’ll face No. 21-ranked Northwestern of the Big Ten in the Jan. 1 game (11 a.m., ESPN2). It’s the second time in three years MSU has been chosen for this bowl; it beat Michigan 52-14 days after head coach Dan Mullen received a hefty raise (four years, $10.6 million).
This is the first meeting between Northwestern and MSU. It’s the fifth consecutive bowl game for NU, which is 1-9 in bowls all time. Since winning the 1949 Rose Bowl, the Wildcats have lost nine consecutive bowl games. Last season, they lost to Texas A&M 33-22 in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.
It’s the third consecutive bowl trip for State, which beat Wake Forest 23-17 last year in the Music City Bowl. The Bulldogs were being considered for that game as well, but the Gator Bowl picked just ahead of the Music City and went with State over Vanderbilt (8-4).
Let’s take a quick look at Northwestern, which is making its first appearance in the Gator Bowl.
• Record: 9-3 (5-3 Big Ten)
• Notable wins: Vanderbilt (23-13), Michigan State (23-20)
• Notable losses: Nebraska (29-28), Michigan (38-31, OT)
• Coach: Pat Fitzgerald (49-39, seventh season)
• Key players: QB Trevor Siemian, RB Venric Mark, LB Damien Proby, LB David Nwabuisi, K Jeff Budzien
• Quick analysis: The Wildcats have found a groove as a program under the 38-year-old Fitzgerald. A school with a strong academic reputation has become a solid presence in the Big Ten.
Offensively, Northwestern runs the ball very well, ranking 14th in the country with 230.9 yards per game. It’s had 300-plus rushing yards three times this season. Mark, the tailback, has rushed for 1,310 yards (6.2 yards per carry) and 11 touchdowns. He’s the Big Ten’s leader in all-purpose yards (170.7 per game) and has returned two punts for touchdowns. He was a second-team All-Big Ten selection.
The passing game isn’t quite so good, ranking 108th nationally (166.8 ypg). Northwestern has been playing two quarterbacks, Siemian and Kain Colter. Siemian has thrown for more yards (1,192 to 796), but Colter has the added weapon of his legs (820 yards, 12 TDs). As a team, Northwestern averages 397.8 yards of total offense (63rd) and 31.5 points (42nd).
On defense, it’s much the same. The Wildcats are tough against the run (18th, at 122.8 ypg) but not against the pass (98th, 262.6 ypg). They rank 10th in turnover margin, having come up with 16 fumble recoveries (tied for second). Proby is sixth in the Big Ten in tackles (108), while defensive end Tyler Scott ranks fourth in sacks with 7.0.
Budzien, the kicker, has made 17 of 18 field goals and was a first-team All-Big Ten selection.
There’s a Gator Bowl teleconference at 5:30 p.m. I’ll have updates then.