Gator Bowl Odds
The 20th-ranked Northwestern Wildcats (9-3) will take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs (8-4) Tuesday, Jan. 1 at 12:00 PM ET in the Gator Bowl, which kicks off insider Jacksonville, Florida’s Everbank Field. ESPN2 has the television coverage. Oddsmakers have listed Mississippi State as a two-point favorite and have set the total at 51.5.
Why Mississippi State Covers
The Bulldogs finished 1-4 after winning each of their first seven games but can’t be counted out this time of year. That’s because they’ve been a force during bowl season.
Mississippi State is tied for the nation’s longest active bowl winning streak with five straight bowl victories. This will be its third consecutive bowl trip.
Last season, the Bulldogs defeated Wake Forest 23-17 in the Music City Bowl. They year before that they rolled Michigan 52-14 in the Gator Bowl.
Northwestern hasn’t been as strong in bowl season. It hasn’t won a bowl game since 1949. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has take the Wildcats to bowl games each of the past four seasons, but they have come up empty handed.
Northwestern lost 33-22 to Texas A&M in last season’s Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Northwestern has had issues in pass coverage. As a result, it ranks 97th in the country against the pass with 261.6 yards allowed per game. Led by Tyler Russell, the Bulldogs have a passing game capable of exploiting Northwestern’s weakness.
Russell completed nearly 60 percent of his passes for 2,791 yards with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions this season.
It is significant that Mississippi State is listed as the favorite. After all, it is 6-3 against the spread this season when laying points.
Why Northwestern Covers
The Wildcats have been an unbelievably good investment. They have covered the spread in each of their last six games and are 11-1 against the number in all games this season. Mississippi State is just 6-6 against the number this season and has failed to cover the spread in four of its last five games.
Led by Venric Mark and Kain Colter, Northwestern is one of the top running teams in the nation. The Wildcats rank 14th in the country with 230.9 rushing yards per game.
Mark has rushed for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns on 6.2 yards per carry, and Colter has rushed for 820 yards and 12 scores on 5.2 yards per tote. These two could be poised for big days on the ground against a Mississippi State defense that has struggled against the run.
The Bulldogs rank 71st in the nation in rushing defense with 166.0 yards allowed per game. They gave up an average of 203.6 yards during a season-ending 1-4 stretch.
It is significant that Mississippi State was outgained by 194 yards in a 41-24 loss at rival Ole Miss in the regular-season finale. Consider that the Bulldogs are just 1-9 against the spread over the last three seasons following a game in which they were outgained by 125 yards or more. They have lost by an average score of 24.6 to 22.2 in these contests.
I have picked Mississippi State to win this game, and you can check out the rest of my college bowl predictions on this page. You should also check out who Jack Jones, Carolina Sports, Vegas Top Cappers, and Brandon Lee have picked to win this game.