After ringing in 2019, we have five excellent bowl game matchups to look forward to on New Year’s Day. The first game of the day features two stout defensive squads from the SEC and Big 10. The 8-4 Mississippi State Bulldogs will be taking on the 8-4 Iowa Hawkeyes in this year’s edition of the Outback Bowl.
The Bulldogs closed out the season as the #18 team in the nation according to the College Football Playoff Committee. As members of the SEC, the team had a grueling regular season schedule, and its record of 4-4 in conference play further demonstrates that. Mississippi State came up short versus conference powerhouses such as the Alabama Crimson Tide and LSU Tigers, but they were able to notch victories over the likes of the Texas A&M Aggies and Auburn Tigers. All four of those squads were nationally ranked at game time.
The Hawkeyes also faced a challenging schedule in the Big Ten, finishing up with a mark of 5-4 in conference play. While they had little trouble with the conference also-rans, two of their losses came to a pair of the Big Ten’s stronger teams in the Wisconsin Badgers and Penn State Nittany Lions, both of whom were nationally ranked at kickoff. Iowa was a perfect 3-0 in out of conference games in 2018.
These two teams are similar and match up well, and that points to a solid game to start what should be a great day of college football action. Let’s take a look at this game in full detail, starting with what the oddsmakers have to say.
Mississippi State vs. Iowa, 12 PM EST, Tues. January 1, ESPN2
Mississippi State vs. Iowa pick:
Mississippi State started out the season on a 3-0 run, but they quickly fell on hard times and dropped back-to-back tilts to the Kentucky Wildcats and Florida Gators. The club righted the ship and finished up the year strong with a record of 5-2 over the final seven. Their final loss was a 24-0 beatdown at the hands of Alabama, but they closed out the year with dominating wins over the Arkansas Razorbacks and Ole Miss Rebels.
Iowa started off the season even better with a record of 6-1 through seven games. Their lone loss over that span came at home to Wisconsin, which entered the game ranked #18 in the nation. The rest of the season didn’t go along as swimmingly. The club dropped three consecutive games to conference foes, but they turned things around and closed out the regular season on a high note with wins over the Illinois Fighting Illini and Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Seven of Mississippi State’s victories were of the double-digit variety, but they also suffered three losses of 16 points or more. Highlights included a 23-9 victory over Auburn, the #8 team in the nation at the time, and a 28-13 win over Texas A&M, the nation’s #16 team at game time. Despite the four losses on the year, the Bulldogs have been highly regarded by pollsters throughout the year.
Impressively, seven of Iowa’s eight victories were also by 10 points or more, including a 63-0 drubbing of Illinois in the second to last game of the year. The three-game losing streak was not only costly, but it was also incredibly frustrating as the combined margin of victory was just 13 points over that span. The 5-4 conference mark left the Hawkeyes in a logjam with Wisconsin and the Purdue Boilermakers, both of whom had 5-4 Big Ten marks and finished behind the West division winning Northwestern Wildcats.
While there are differences to be found in the above stats, these clubs are very similar. The biggest difference to be found is on offensive approach, as the Bulldogs lean more heavily on the run while Iowa has the edge in the passing game. The only other number that sticks out like a sore thumb is in sacks against, as Mississippi State is lacking in that department in comparison to Iowa.
For recent bowl game history, Mississippi State gets the nod with a mark of 4-1 over its last five versus Iowa’s record of just 1-4 over the same span. The Bulldogs have won their last three, including last year’s 31-27 win over the Louisville Cardinals in the Gator Bowl.
Iowa also picked up a victory in last year’s postseason, a 27-20 win over the Boston College Eagles in the Pinstripe Bowl. That win snapped a five-game bowl game losing streak, the previous four of which were by double-digits.
In last year’s Outback Bowl, the South Carolina Gamecocks outlasted the Michigan Wolverines in a hard fought game by a final margin of 26-19. For this year’s game, Mississippi State has been installed as a seven-point favorite.
These two squads match up well and bring similar approaches to the table. Mississippi State and Iowa are two of the strongest defenses in the nation, and we should have a tough smashmouth-style game as a result. In the end, the difference could come down to which side can do just enough on offense to break through.
That being the case, we’ll lean towards the Bulldogs to pick up the win due to its greater strength in the running game. However, we fully expect Iowa and its stout defense to keep this one close and interesting until the latter stages of the contest. Mississippi State wins, but Iowa covers the hefty touchdown spread.
We’ll take Iowa plus the points.