January 1st, Jacksonville, Florida
The Michigan Wolverines will be finally returning to a bowl game next week after a two-year absence. The Wolverines have the most exciting player in college football in Denard Robinson and the Bulldogs have not lost to a team outside of the current top 20 all year. The Bulldogs come from the deepest division in all of college football with five of the six teams being ranked currently. The Wolverines have struggled against ranked teams all year and have not beaten a team that is currently ranked.
The Wolverines started of the year red-hot winning their first five games and jumping into the top 20 for a brief period. Then Denard got banged up in conference play and really struggled against elite defenses. The Wolverines dropped their next three contests vs in-state rival Michigan State, a Iowa team that faded down the stretch, and a Penn St. team that was starting a walk-on quarterback. It was starting to look like a repeat 2009 season in Ann Arbor when the Wolverines played in one of the more offensive games in all of college football against Illinois the following week winning in triple overtime 65-63. The much-maligned Wolverine defense then won the game against Purdue in a game where the offense had five turnovers and really did not play well enough to win the defense had their best game, albeit against a team who had injuries to their starting quarterback, running back, and their number one receiver, allowing only 256 yards of total offense and forcing five turnovers of their own. Michigan limped to the finish line though getting blown out in their final two games by BCS bowl bound teams in Wisconsin and Ohio St. It will be interesting to see how Michigan’s defense responds to having a month to prepare and hopefully the offense can rebound with a healthy Robinson.
Mississippi State started off the year by facing an overmatched Memphis team winning 49-7. The Bulldogs then proceeded by losing the following two weeks to divisional foes Auburn and LSU. Both of which are currently ranked in the top 15 and Auburn is heading to the national championship after an undefeated season. They responded by winning their next six games and surging to a 7-2 record. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs the month of November was not kind to them as they lost to Alabama and Arkansas in back to back weeks before finishing off with a win against in-state rival Mississippi. The Bulldog’s passing offense is not the greatest ranking 91st in the country with 178.6 yards per game but they feature a strong running attack lead by junior Vick Ballard, who averages 5.4 yards per carry. The Bulldogs have a staunch defense allowing only 20.3 points per game and ranking 27th in the country.
The Gator Bowl should be a very competitive game featuring two teams that run spread offenses. The Wolverines could very well be playing for Rich Rodriguez’s job and Mississippi State will be celebrating retaining theirs after Mullen was named a candidate for head coaching vacancies at both Florida and Miami (Fl). If Michigan wins and Rich Rodriguez retains his job they could very well be a very dangerous team next year in the Big 10 playing in a division that could be weaker then it appears right now with Iowa losing a lot of key players and Minnesota struggling and starting a new era under Jerry Kill. Mississippi State could enter the season in the top 20 next year with a win, especially if Cam Newton and Ryan Mallett both turn pro. Alabama also could lose a ton of talent if their draft eligible players leave and they also lose starting quarterback Greg McElroy. This might end up being one of the more entertaining bowl games and I suspect that a fully healthy Robinson will help Michigan score more points then they did in the final month of the season. Michigan’s defense will play just good enough to win and force a couple of key turnovers including one in the final five minutes that will seal the win for the Wolverines.