CAPITAL ONE ORANGE BOWL STORYLINES
1. In a season full of firsts, No. 8 Mississippi State would like nothing more than to add another by defeating No. 9 Georgia Tech for the first time in five meetings at the Capital One Orange Bowl. The Bulldogs lost two of their last three games to put a bit of a damper on their most successful season in school history, which included two other firsts – a 9-0 start and No. 1 ranking in the polls. The Yellow Jackets nearly knocked off three straight ranked opponents to end the regular season, losing only to No. 2 Florida State in the ACC championship game.
2. Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott became only the second Bulldog to earn Heisman Trophy votes – finishing eighth – and broke 10 individual school records in 2014, including total offense (3,935 yards), touchdowns responsible for (37) and rushing yards by a quarterback (939). The Louisiana native joined 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel as the only players in FBS over the last seven years to average at least 240 passing yards and 75 rushing yards in a season. Prescott was also the only player in the nation to rank in the top 20 in passing (24) and rushing touchdowns (13).
3. Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson has typically employed at least one size-speed mismatch at receiver since his arrival in 2008 (such as Demaryius Thomas and Stephen Hill) to balance out his team’s high-powered option offense. Leading receiver DeAndre Smelter (6-3, 225 pounds) was the latest in that line of pass-catchers before he tore his ACL against Georgia on Nov. 29. With Smelter sidelined, it will be up to 6-5, 232-pound senior Darren Waller to produce like he did in the ACC championship (five catches for 73 yards and a touchdown).
TV: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Mississippi State -6.5
ABOUT MISSISSIPPI STATE (10-2, 6-2 SEC): Prescott was far from a one-man show on offense, getting a lot of help from leading receiver De'Runnya Wilson, who averaged 88.6 yards and scored four times through the air in the Bulldogs’ five games against ranked opponents. Although Mississippi State is ranked 80th in total defense, it has stepped up when it has mattered the most, finishing the regular season first in FBS in red-zone, 10th in scoring and 13th in third-down defense. One of the key members of the unit is second-team All-American linebacker Benardrick McKinney, who tallied 61 tackles and three sacks.
ABOUT GEORGIA TECH (10-3, 6-2 ACC): The Yellow Jackets’ third-ranked rushing attack piled up 41 touchdowns, helping Georgia Tech break its school record for touchdowns in a season with 65. Sophomore quarterback Justin Thomas blossomed in his first year as a starter, tying Joe Hamilton for the fifth-most touchdown passes in a season in school history (17) and needs 35 rushing yards to become the second Georgia Tech quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. Like Thomas, running backs Zach Laskey (788) and Synjyn Days (753) have amassed more than 700 yards on the ground, headlining a group of 12 Yellow Jackets that have totaled more than 100.
PREDICTION: Mississippi State 34, Georgia Tech 27