Gator Bowl 2010: 10 Things To Know about Michigan vs. Mississippi St.
The Gator Bowl takes place in Jacksonville, Florida on New Year's Day (1:30 p.m., ESPN 2) between the Michigan Wolverines (7-5 overall, 3-5 Big Ten) and Mississippi State Bulldogs. (8-4 overall, 4-4 SEC).
Michigan, led by quarterback Denard "Shoelace" Robinson, may be playing for its coach's job, as Rich Rodriguez may need a win in order to stop Athletic Director Dave Brandon from pulling the plug.
This should be one of the most exciting non-BCS bowl games of the holiday season, pitting two of the nation's top rushing attacks against each other.
It might not compare to Cam Newton and Auburn's offense taking on LaMichael James and Oregon, but these two teams aren't too far off when it comes to running the ball.
With less than a month left until the big game, here are 10 things you should know about Michigan vs. Mississippi State.
10. Mississippi State's Defense (Almost) Stopped Cam Newton
Cam Newton has been the clear Heisman favorite since the middle of the college football season, but his early-season performance against Mississippi State paled in comparison to the numbers he's been putting up lately.
The Bulldogs nearly took out the Tigers, falling 17-14.
And Newton passed for just 136 yards in the game (with two TD and an INT), as well as just 70 yards on 18 carries.
Mississippi State deserves a whole lot of credit for making Cam look human.(almost)
9. Michigan's History against the SEC
Everyone knows about the SEC's recent dominance over the Big Ten and the rest of the college football landscape, but Michigan has gotten the best of the SEC throughout history.
The Wolverines won their last bowl game over an SEC opponent (41-35 over Florida in the 2008 Capital One Bowl), and they sport a 7-3 record all-time against the SEC in bowl games.
Michigan is also 23-5-1 lifetime against the SEC.
Then again, times have changed, as fans of the winningest program in college football history know.
8. Mississippi State Can Run the Ball
The Bulldogs are mainly known for having the country's 27th-ranked scoring defense (20.3 ppg), but they can run the ball with just about anyone in the country.
They are No. 16 nationally in rushing offense at 215.8 yards per game, led by running back Vick Ballard's 892 yards and 16 TD.
7. Denard Robinson Is Really, Really Good
There's a reason Denard Robinson was the clear-cut Heisman favorite for much of the early part of the season.
He set the single-season rushing record for NCAA quarterbacks with 1,643 yards, averaging 6.7 ypc and tallying 14 TD on the ground.
6. Denard's a Running Quarterback, But He Can Throw Too
Many people think Denard is just a runner, but that couldn't be further from the truth.
He has gone over 200 yards passing in six games and has a 300-yard game, torching Illinois for 305 yards and three TD.
And despite his recent slump, Robinson is still ranked 20th in the nation in passer rating (152.94) and sports a 62 percent completion rate to go along with 2,316 yards passing, 16 TD and 10 INT.
For anyone who's counting, that's 3,959 total yards and 30 total TD, despite him missing large chunks of snaps throughout the year due to myriad bumps and bruises.
And just so you know, Cam Newton has 3,998 yards, just 39 more than Shoelace.
5. Mississippi State Has a Dual-Threat QB, Too
Mississippi State's quarterback Chris Relf doesn't throw the ball a whole lot, but he's been serviceable with 1,508 yards, 10 TD, just five INT and a 132.32 passer rating.
But he's also done some damage on the ground, leading the Bulldogs with 179 carries.
Relf has chalked up 683 rushing yards on the year (a 3.8 ypc average) and has two 100-yard games, including an impressive 31-carry 103-yard performance in a near-win over Arkansas.
He's no Denard, but the Wolverines still had better keep an eye on Relf.
4. Mississippi State Only Loses to the Best of the Best
The Bulldogs finished a disappointing fifth in the SEC-West, but it needs to be noted who their losses came against.
They lost to Auburn, Arkansas, LSU and Alabama, which are ranked No. 1, No. 8, No. 10 and No. 16, respectively.
All of those teams had legitimate title-shots at some point in the season, and Mississippi State played Auburn to within three points and fell to Arkansas in double-overtime.
Pretty impressive stuff.
3. RichRod's Teams Fare Well Outside of the Big Ten
Rodriguez's failure in the Big Ten is well-documented, as his Wolverine squads have combined for a 6-18 in-conference record in his three years as coach.
But things haven't been so bad for RichRod outside of the Big Ten, with a 9-3 nonconference record, including a perfect 8-0 mark in the last two years.
Some people think it may be that his spread option can't succeed in the physical Big Ten, but it could have more to do with the quality of competition.
Either way, it's something positive for Michigan to look at.
2. The Crowd Should Be in Michigan's Favor
The location of the game might suggest that you'd see more Bulldog fans in the crowd, but Michigan has the largest alumni network of any school in the world, and its fans will be eager to come out to the Gator Bowl to see the school's first bowl game in three years.
The Bulldogs will have their share of fans but don't be surprised if Michigan has the edge when it comes to cheering.
And every little bit helps.
1. It Will Be an Interesting Contrast of Styles
Despite both teams' affinities for running the ball, these are two completely different football teams.
Michigan is the nation's 22nd-highest-scoring offense at 34.3 points per game, but it doesn't play much defense, giving up 33.8 points per game (No. 102 nationally).
Mississippi State doesn't score like Michigan–they're No. 58 nationally at 27.1 ppg–but they are stout defensively, giving up just 20.3 ppg (27th nationally).
On offense, the Wolverines' quick-strike offense is capable of outscoring the Bulldogs, but if Michigan plays defense like it has been, it won't matter.
If the Bulldogs have their way, they could win in a blowout.
But if the Wolverines have their way, they could win in a shootout.
Either way, it'll be interesting to see how this contrast of styles plays out.
Michigan 34, Missippi State 31
What do you think?
Who's going to win the Gator Bowl?
Voice your opinion in the comments.
Matt Rudnitsky is a student at the University of Michigan and a Featured Columnist/writing intern at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Mattrud.