The 2013 Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl features another exciting SEC-Big 10 match-up with the Bulldogs of Mississippi State (8-4) taking on the 20th ranked Northwestern Wildcats (9-3) at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, FL in New Year’s Day (12:00pm ET) action. Mississippi St. is 6-6 ATS this season, and the Bulldogs have failed to cover the spread in 4 of their last 5 games to close out the regular season including a season-ending 41-24 loss to in-state rival Ole Miss one the road as a 1 point favorite. Northwestern is a sterling 11-1 ATS this season, and the Wildcats have not failed to cover a spread since an October 6th 39-28 loss to Penn State in Happy Valley as a 3 point underdog.
The Mississippi State offense utilizes a spread option offense with quarterback Tyler Russell (2,791 yards passing, 22 TDs, 6 INTs) that ranks 57th among FBS teams in scoring with an average of 30.2 points per game and 77th in total offense with 389.5 yards per game on average. Russell is probable to play in the game with a sprained ankle, but may be limited. Redshirt freshman back up Dak Prescott (194 yards, 4 TDs) will start if Russell cannot go, and will see some playing time regardless of Russell’s status. The MSU defense ranks 28th among FBS teams with 22.4 PPG allowed and 60th in total defense with 389.9 YPG allowed.
The Northwestern offense is a run-oriented spread option attack that features QB Kain Colter (796 yards passing, 8 TDs; 820 yards rushing, 10 TDs) and running back Venric Mack (1,310 yards rushing). The Wildcats rank 42nd nationally in scoring offense with an average of 31.5 PPG and 62nd nationally with 397.8 YPG of total offense, with 230.9 of those yards coming on the ground. The NU defense ranks 31st among FBS teams with 22.8 PPG allowed and 53rd in total defense with 385.3 YPG allowed. The Wildcats’ Achilles heel has been their secondary, as they rank 97th in the nation against the pass with 261.6 YPG allowed.
Mississippi State vs. Northwestern Spread, Line and Betting Odds:
Mississippi State Bulldogs -1.5
@ Northwestern Wildcats +1.5
Over 53.5 (-110)
Under 53.5 (-110)
Betting odds taken from Bovada.lv
Mississippi State vs. Northwestern Pick:
Mississippi State is 11-5 ATS in their last 16 games on grass, a 2-5 record ATS in their last 7 non-conference games and a 1-4 record ATS in their last 5 games overall. Northwestern is 4-0 ATS in their last 4 non-conference games, 4-0 ATS in their last 4 games against teams with a winning record and 4-0 ATS in their last 4 games on grass. The under is 6-0 in MSU’s last 6 non-conference games, 8-3-1 in their last 12 games on grass and 42-18-1 in their last 61 games following an ATS loss. The under is 6-1 in Northwestern’s last 7 non-conference games, 9-3 in their last 12 games on grass and 11-5 in their last 16 games overall.
Northwestern has a terrible history in bowl games, as the Wildcats have not won one since the 1949 Rose Bowl despite going to their 5th straight bowl game under Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald. Mississippi State has been a streaky team, starting out 7-0 this season before losses to top 10 conference rivals in Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M. The Bulldogs have faced tougher competition than Northwestern, but they do not have a signature win to their credit and their starting quarterback may be limited in this game or miss the game entirely. Likewise, the Wildcats are lacking a signature having lost to the toughest Big 10 teams on their schedule in Penn State, Nebraska and Michigan. This makes a spread pick a toss-up, so we will play the over/under in this game. With MSU likely limited on offense with Russell’s injury and the Wildcats featuring a run-oriented offense combined with the strong trends favoring the under for both teams overall and in non-conference play, the call here is to take the under.
PICK = Under 53.5