December 3, 2012 9:41:49 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- For the second time in three years, the Mississippi State University football team will have New Year's Day plans.
MSU (8-4) has accepted an invitation to the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl to face Northwestern University (9-3) on Jan. 1, 2013. MSU last spent New Year's Day in Jacksonville to start 2011 with a 52-14 victory against the University of Michigan to complete a nine-win season for the 2010 campaign. The victory marked MSU's first invitation and victory in a New Year's Day bowl game in the state of Florida since 1940.
"I know our team couldn't be more excited to come back to Jacksonville, as they had great experience last time and the time our players had was very special," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. "It is such a great reward for this senior class I first recruited and bought into what we're trying to build."
The matchup against the Wildcats (9-3) is MSU's third-straight bowl appearance under Mullen. The Bulldogs will go for a sixth-straight bowl victory dating back to the 1999 Peach Bowl against Clemson University. ESPN2 will televise the game at 11 a.m.
"Bulldog fans have shown how enthusiastic and supportive they are of our team with record ticket sales each of the last two years, and I know they will take over Jacksonville for New Year's Eve and EverBank Field on New Year's Day," MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin
Northwestern will make its fifth-straight bowl appearance, and fourth on New Year's Day. Before Pat Fitzgerald, a former Big Ten Conference Defensive Player of the Year with the Wildcats, took over as coach, Northwestern had played in six bowl games in school history. This fifth-year senior class will leave Northwestern as the winningest class in school history (39 victories).
"We're real excited for the opportunity, and when I announced it to our young men a moment ago they were very excited and honored to represent the Big Ten," Fitzgerald said.. "We've got an exciting and young football team."
No. 21 Northwestern hasn't won a bowl game since the 1949 Rose Bowl. MSU last loss in a bowl game was a 38-11 loss to the University of Texas in the 1999 Cotton Bowl.
This will be the first meeting between MSU and Northwestern. MSU is 3-7-1 all-time against Big Ten Conference opponents, while the Wildcats can win 10 games for the first time since 1995 when they last went to the Rose Bowl.
"We're very thankful for the support and the unprecedented high that our program has experienced," Fitzgerald said. "We've got terrific leadership, and that gives up the opportunity to compete at the highest level in one of the most competitive leagues in America."
The game will be the third installment of the Southeastern Conference vs. the Big Ten Conference. MSU and Michigan played in the first game, and the University of Florida defeated Ohio State University 24-17 last year.
The Gator Bowl tie-in that pits a team from the SEC against a team from the Big Ten is one of three games on New Year's Day that features that arrangement. The University of Georgia will take on the University of Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla., while the University of South Carolina will take on Michigan in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla.
"It doesn't get any better than having Big Ten and SEC in the state of Florida since we have two other bowl partners that do the same thing," Gator Bowl President Rick Catlett said. "We call it the Big Ten-SEC Challenge down here."
The offensive schemes of both programs are similar in base set, but they have different philosophies. Northwestern has the 14th best rushing offense in the county (230.92 yards per game) and averages 31.5 points per game this season.
MSU scores 30.3 ppg. thanks in large part to a pass attack that is 50th in the country and sixth in the SEC (248.8 ypg.).
Northwestern junior quarterback Kain Colter, who is from Colorado, is a dual-threat athlete who has 820 yards rushing and 796 yards passing. He is a three-star athlete who received scholarship offers from The United State Air Force Academy, the University of Akron, Arizona State University, the University of Colorado, Colorado State University, and Stanford University.
After finishing no higher than 45th nationally in rushing in Fitzgerald's first six years, the Wildcats surged on the ground this season thanks to junior tailback Venric Mark (1,310 yards, 11 touchdowns). Mark was a
second-team All-Big Ten selection at running back. The Wildcats' defense is 18th in the country against the run (122.75 ypg).
"When the game day kicks off for our guys, they know they'll have their hands full by playing a team that has gone to a lot of bowl games over the last couple of years," Mullen said. "They are nationally ranked in every poll, and our guys will be fired up and ready to play."
Junior quarterback Tyler Russell will lead the Bulldogs. The former Parade All-American was one of three quarterbacks with more than 15 touchdowns and one interception through seven games. He finished the regular season with 2,791 yards passing and 22 touchdowns to seven receivers.
Both teams rely on creating turnovers. MSU is tied for fifth in the country in turnover margin (plus-17), while Northwestern is 10th in the country in that category (plus-13).
Both teams will have a 38-day layoff since their last games. The players should be familiar with how to use that time. MSU has 22 players on its roster, including eight starters, who were on the 2010 team.
"We're going to implement the same schedule we used last year, and it worked well for us," Mullen said. "Hopefully for us it won't be a lot different (in the result)."