St. Petersburg Bowl: Miami (Ohio) RedHawks vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Date: Dec. 26, 11 a.m. ET on ESPN
Location: Tropicana Field | St. Petersburg, Florida
Miami (Ohio) RedHawks
Best moment: Miami's 21-20 victory against Ball State in the regular-season finale made the RedHawks bowl eligible for the first time since 2010. Even more remarkable: Miami became the first team in college football history to finish a regular season 6-6 after losing its first six games.
Lowest moment: When Akron defeated Miami 35-13 on Oct. 8, it appeared there was no way the RedHawks would make a bowl game. It marked Miami's sixth consecutive loss to open the season, and the RedHawks committed three turnovers.
Key player: Quarterback Gus Ragland has been sensational this season. He recovered from an offseason ACL tear in time to take over as the starting quarterback Oct. 15 against Kent State. Ragland has led Miami to six consecutive victories while throwing 15 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Motivation level: High. This season was supposed to be a dud when the RedHawks fell to 0-6. Now, they've made history as a postseason participant. Why not keep the magical turnaround rolling? – Jesse Temple
Best moment: There was plenty to feel bad about before the final week of the regular season. A 4-7 record wasn’t exactly something to pat yourself on the back for. But then the Egg Bowl came and suddenly there was something to play for. Not only would Mississippi State savor beating The School Up North, but it also had the added satisfaction of eliminating Ole Miss from bowl eligibility. What’s more, quarterback Nick Fitzgerald won SEC Player of the Week for his 367-yard, five-touchdown performance.
Lowest moment: The season didn’t start with a bang. Rather, it was a dull thud. Dak Prescott was gone, a new era was beginning and Mississippi State somehow lost at home to lowly South Alabama. Fitzgerald wasn’t anywhere near the player he’d become, failing to complete any of the three passes he attempted before he was pulled. The loss set the tone for an underwhelming season that if not for a solid APR score and good luck wouldn’t have led to a bowl game with a sub-.500 record.
Key player: As Fitzgerald went, so went Mississippi State. In the Bulldogs’ seven losses, he threw six touchdowns and five interceptions. In their five wins, he had 15 touchdowns and five interceptions. And that’s not taking into account his ability to run the football, which he did to the tune of a team-high 1,361 yards and 14 touchdowns. Like with Prescott before him, games went almost entirely through Fitzgerald as he accounted for 35 of the offense’s 46 touchdowns.
Motivation level: You better believe that some red-and-blue clad folks in Mississippi will have a fun time telling State that it shouldn’t be in a bowl game, that it snuck in through the back door. And if that’s not motivation enough to prove you belong, what is? This is a young football team that ought to use these next few weeks to build a future around Fitzgerald and others. Winning a bowl game won’t undo a lackluster season, but it could serve as a springboard into a brighter future in 2017. -- Alex Scarborough