Mississippi State makes its first Jan. 1 bowl appearance since the 1998 season on Saturday when it faces Michigan at 1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
Here’s a quick preview of the Progressive Gator Bowl:
WHO TO WATCH: Middle linebacker Chris White had an All-SEC senior season after moving over from an outside linebacker spot as a junior. He was fourth in the SEC with 15.5 tackles for loss and led the Bulldogs with 105 total tackles. White and fellow senior linebacker K.J. Wright combined for 198 tackles and were the backbone of a Mississippi State defense that was 27th nationally in scoring defense, allowing an average of 20.3 points per game. White, who's always around the football, will no doubt keep close tabs on Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson.
WHAT TO WATCH: When the Bulldogs were at their best this season, they leaned heavily on the running game and played keep-away from teams. That will be especially important in this game in terms of trying to keep Robinson and that Michigan offense on the sideline. The Bulldogs were second in the SEC in rushing offense, averaging 215.8 yards per game. They’d like to get Vick Ballard going early and keep him going. Ballard is one of those move-the-chains kind of backs who has 16 rushing touchdowns, and he’s complemented by LaDarius Perkins, who’s more of a speed guy. The Bulldogs would love nothing more than to turn this game into a smash-mouth affair and shorten the game with long, sustained drives.
WHY TO WATCH: Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen just received a new contract that will pay him $2.65 million per year, and he has the Bulldogs on the move in his second season in Starkville. The Mississippi State fans are genuinely stoked for the future. For Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, there’s no guarantee of a future, at least not in Ann Arbor. Whether or not he returns for a fourth season remains to be seen, but a loss to Mississippi State certainly wouldn’t help his cause.
PREDICTION: Mississippi State 28, Michigan 24. Robinson is as healthy as he’s been since early in the season, which means he’s probably going to get his yards. The key is keeping him out of the end zone, and the Bulldogs have been stingy all season when it comes to giving up points. They also thrive on pounding teams in the running game, and the Wolverines haven’t been able to stop the run all season. What makes anybody think that's going to change now?