NCAA Football

Progressive Gator Bowl Preview: Mississippi State vs. Michigan

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No. 21 Mississippi State vs. Michigan

Jacksonville, Fla., EverBank Field
Saturday, January 1, 2011 1:30 PM ET ESPN2

Laying the scene

No coach's seat has been hotter than that of Rich Rodriguez. The Wolverines made some nice strides on offense this season behind a quarterback that jumped out to the forefront of the Heisman talk early in the season, but the defense has struggled to say the least. Mississippi State, on the other hand, is among the biggest surprises this season, their four losses coming against ranked SEC teams. The last January bowl win for the Bulldogs came on New Year's Day 1941 when they beat Georgetown in the Orange Bowl. This will mark the first ever meeting between the Bulldogs and Wolverines.

What Mississippi State has to do to win

The Bulldogs have seen three players rush for more than 550 yards including quarterback Chris Relf, and Mississippi State ranks 16th in the nation in rushing offense. To come away with the win in this one, though, defense will be the key. With Denard Robinson getting plenty of time to rest up for the bowl game, he should be all systems go against the Bulldogs. Mississippi State fields the country's 19th ranked rushing defense, allowing 121.7 yards per game facing some of the best ground games in the country. Against Cam Newton of Auburn, the Bulldogs held the quarterback to just 70 yards on the ground and 3.9 yards per attempt. If they can limit Robinson to force him to beat them with his arm, where he's actually had some success, they'll be in excellent position to come away with the win.

What Michigan has to do to win

Try, oh try, to play defense. Mississippi State is among the best rushing teams in the country, averaging 215.8 yards per game. Michigan has allowed more than 200 rushing yards five times this season, but not one of the seven teams who they held to fewer than 200 yards on the ground rank in the top 30 rushing offenses in the country and five rank 96th or worse. Against teams in the top 15 rushing offenses, the Wolverines have allowed an average of 310 yards. Mississippi State ranks 16th in rushing offense.

The call

Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have fared well this season against teams outside of the BCS top 25. All four of their losses came to teams that finished the year in the BCS top 25, while not one of the teams they beat finished the year ranked. Michigan isn't ranked and with this game likely to be won on the ground, the Bulldogs get the edge against one of the country's worst rushing defenses.  - Danny Hobrock

Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.

You may email Danny directly at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at DannyHobrock

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