TAXSLAYER.COM GATOR BOWL STORYLINES
1. It's a matchup of two teams on the rise who are trying to build winning traditions. Mississippi State has qualified for three consecutive bowl games for the first time since 1998-2000, and the Bulldogs have won five straight bowl games dating to the 1999 Peach Bowl. Northwestern has made five straight bowl games but has not won one since the 1949 Rose Bowl.
2. Northwestern is trying to claim its first 10-win season since 1995, when it reached the Rose Bowl under coach Gary Barnett, and give coach Pat Fitzgerald 50 victories, the most in school history. Fitzgerald is tied with Lynn Waldorf (1936-45) with 49 wins.
3. Both teams led their conferences in turnover margin, as Northwestern as plus-13 and Mississippi State was plus-17.
TV: 12 p.m. ET, ESPN2. LINE: Mississippi State -2.5
ABOUT MISSISSIPPI STATE (8-4, 4-4 SEC): The Bulldogs faltered in SEC play after a 7-0 start that saw them climb as high as No. 12 in the rankings. Three of their losses came against highly ranked opponents in Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU, but the regular season ended on a sour note with a 41-24 loss to rival Mississippi. The balanced offense is led by running back LaDarius Perkins (940 yards, eight touchdowns), quarterback Tyler Russell (2,791 yards, 22 touchdowns, six interceptions) and receiver Chad Bumphis (55 catches, 904 yards, 12 touchdowns). The defense was strong early in the season but didn't hold up as well against the SEC's top teams, allowing 37 or more points in all four losses.
ABOUT NORTHWESTERN (9-3, 5-3 Big Ten): The Wildcats won their last two games of the regular season and three of their last four. Northwestern's spread offense has been one of the most productive in the nation on the ground, averaging 230.9 rushing yards with running back Venric Mark (1,310 yards, 11 touchdowns) and quarterback Kain Colter (820 yards, 12 touchdowns) leading the way. Colter also has passed for 796 yards with eight touchdowns and two interceptions while splitting time with Trevor Siemian (1,192 yards, six touchdowns, two interceptions). Mark needs 147 all-purpose yards to tie the Northwestern single-season record of 2,195 set by Damien Anderson in 2000. The defense is solid across the board but is especially tough against the run (123.8 yards per game).
PREDICTION: Northwestern 27, Mississippi State 23