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Dispatch 2013 Gator Bowl coverage - Game Day - Can Mississippi State win its second New Year's Day bowl game in three years?




Matt Stevens


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Good morning readers and Happy New Year to all the readers of the pre-game blog edition as The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog prepares to give you early coverage of Mississippi State University's second Jan. 1st bowl game in three years as MSU (8-4) prepares to face No. 22 Northwestern University (9-3) in a 11 a.m. kickoff on ESPN2. 




We're a few hours away from kickoff in Jacksonville but you know how we do this by now, The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog is going to review all the material we've assembled for you this week in our print edition. 




NOTE: Be sure to bookmark this page as we'll continue to update this post throughout until kickoff as news continues to flow out about pre-game news for either team tonight. 




UPDATE (10:45 a.m.) Mississippi State officials have announced Bulldogs co-defensive coordinator Geoff Collins will calls the defensive plays and signals today in the 2013 Gator Bowl instead of assistant coach Chris Wilson.  


MSU head coach Dan Mullen told ESPN reporters on the EverBank Field this morning the reason behind the move was to "give Geoff an opportunity" and "get right D-line rotation on the field vs. NW offense".  




DEC. 28, 2012 - MSU football notebook - Bulldogs assistant Tony Hughes to coach entire secondary; MSU QB Tyler Russell back at full strength - http://www.cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=21214#ixzz2GjdnRMr5 




DEC. 29, 2012 - MSU football notebook - MSU prepares for final shot at up-tempo offensive attack - http://www.cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=21265#ixzz2GjeEMuJi 




MSU football blog post - Dispatch 2013 Gator Bowl coverage Day 1 - Let's recap what we've missed so far.... - http://www.cdispatch.com/msusports/article.asp?aid=21230#ixzz2GjeTkTaI 




DEC. 30, 2012 - MSU football blog post - Dispatch 2013 Gator Bowl coverage Day 2 - Final open practice highlights possible MSU offensive records falling - http://www.cdispatch.com/msusports/article.asp?aid=21272#ixzz2Gjej6jXE 




MSU football feature - Bulldogs senior receiver Chad Bumphis relishes first opportunity to play on New Year's Day - http://www.cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=21266#ixzz2Gjev3U5S 




DEC. 31, 2012 - MSU football feature - Mississippi State expecting large student attendance in Jacksonville - http://www.cdispatch.com/msusports/article.asp?aid=21286#ixzz2GjfSPEqJ 




MSU football blog post - Dispatch 2013 Gator Bowl coverage Day 3 - Mullen and Fitzgerald say teams fully prepared for 2013 Gator Bowl on New Year's Day - http://www.cdispatch.com/msusports/article.asp?aid=21285#ixzz2GjfcSL90 




Now we'll try to answer some game day questions for you - the loyal reader of The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog -  




1. Does MSU receivers coach Tim Brewster having coached against and recruited some of the upperclassmen on the Northwestern roster give the Bulldogs a wild card heading into this New Year's Day matchup? 


MSU head coach Dan Mullen certainly doesn't think so. The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog asked that very question to the Bulldogs fourth-year head coach Monday and he dismissed the notion with the fact that the Wildcats are completely different on both sides of the ball since Brewster's tenure as head coach at the University of Minnesota ended in 2009.  


"Partially, but not huge," Mullen said. "It was a couple of years ago. Like I said, you look at our team that came here a couple of years ago, I think we brought 115 guys and 20 of them participated in the game. We had a show of hands the other day (for) two years ago. That means 95 of them didn't participate in the game. It's just that short time frame you're in college, your roster just changes completely, even though these guys that are up here, they've played in the game before. But your overall roster changes so drastically from year to year." 


Brewster was adamant during Saturday's final open practice that he's familiar with the intensity level a Big Ten Conference foe will have to go up against an SEC opponent on New Year's Day.  


"I played in the Big Ten, coached in the Big Ten but the SEC is without question the best football conference in the country," Brewster said. "Everybody, when they get their opportunity to play the best, are going to step their game up. We're going to get the absolute fastball from Northwestern. They haven't won a bowl game in quite some time and Pat (Fitzgerald) does a great job of motivating his kids. We will get their absolute best shot on New Year's Day and we have to understand that." 




2. What would a win today mean for both programs as they continue to change the culture of the traditions before both Mullen and Fitzgerald got the head coaching jobs?  


The two head coaches in the game, MSU's Dan Mullen and Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, in Jacksonville have become relatively close friends in the business notably because of their similarities in running their programs on and off the field. The main reason is their ability to convince the local community, alumni, players and staff members that having plans to play a game on or around Jan. 1 at both institutions should become more of a habit than a celebrated accomplishment. MSU (8-4) will come to EverBank Field in Jacksonville on a streak of three straight bowl games under Mullen, who has transformed the Bulldogs from a program hit with a late downturn under Jackie Sherrill and consistent disappointment under Sylvester Croom to competitive element of the Western Division of the Southeastern Conference. Mullen already is tied for fourth in school history in career victories with 29 just four years into his tenure in Starkville. So it's no secret he consistently trades ideas, philosophies and suggestions with Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald. Mullen has a higher winning percentage of any coach since 1955 when the late Darrell Royal left MSU after two years with a 12-8 record. Mullen called Fitzgerald before taking the Northwestern job just to get counsel on taking over a program that hadn't had historical winning success. This is not a new trend for coaches in big-time college football anymore as this past week former University of Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said he reached out to Fitzgerald for advice before taking the opening at the University of Arkansas. 


"Head coaches really don't have a lot of friends in the world," Fitzgerald said. "So we have to reach out to the other guys that we got to know as we're coming up through the ranks." 


On the field, they both run a spread option offense look. Off the field but in the recruiting ranks they both have to rely on developing sometimes passed over two or three-star products to keep the winning tradition alive. Northwestern has a different element to recruiting because of the more national base they have to drawn from thanks to the overall academic prestige of the school. Only five of the school's 20 verbal commitments for the 2013 class are from the state of Illinois.  


In 2008, Northwestern earned a berth in the Valero Alamo Bowl against the University of Missouri, their first postseason appearance since the 2005 Sun Bowl. In 2009, the Wildcats returned to a New Year's Day Bowl game, their first since Fitzgerald was a player in the purple and white in the 1997 Citrus Bowl. This past year the Wildcats became bowl-eligible for a fifth straight year.  


With that sustained run of success under Fitzgerald, NU's group of fifth-year seniors will leave school as the Northwestern's all-time winningest, currently with 36 victories to their credit. 


"At this point, my thought process is all about getting the guys to the stadium on time," Fitzgerald said. "We're going to be ready and I have no concerns. We're as prepared as we can be at this point. It's like any game for us at this point. It's our job as coaches to make adjustments throughout the course of the game. I think we've done that by being into the fourth quarter of all four previous bowl games. We've got to get over that hump in this football game." 




All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.



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