Electrifying fireworks will be popping off on New Year’s Eve at midnight on the Jacksonville, Fla. Riverfront. On New Year’s Day, fireworks will also be firing off on the football field at EverBank Stadium in the Gator Bowl.
Gator McCluskey is one of the classic character names in American cinema. Portrayed by Burt Reynolds in White Lightning and Gator, he lived around American alligators in the Okefnokee Swamp—a cool name for a swamp.
Nicknamed “The River City,” Jacksonville is the largest city in America by area in the continental U.S. It will be swamped with fans of the University of Michigan Wolverines and Mississippi State University Bulldogs. The day after the city’s Gator Bowl parade, there will be a parade of rising stars on the gridiron.
In the 2011 Gator Bowl, it’s the SEC versus the Big Ten, and there’s at least one player who’s like lightning. The Battle for Band Supremacy on New Year’s Eve starts at 6:00 p.m. On New Year’s Day, the Gator Bowl will feature two compelling football programs from outside the state.
The BCS No. 21 ranked Mississippi State team versus unranked Michigan. Maroon and white will line up in opposition to maize and gold for the lion’s share of a multi-million dollar day.
Live from Jacksonville, Fla. at 1:30 p.m. EST on ESPN2, the Gator Bowl has been around annually since 1946. This game could be called the Burt Reynolds Bowl. His imprint is all over it. He played halfback for Florida State University in 1954. ESPN’s Lee Corso was his roommate on the football team. Mike Patrick, Craig James and Todd Harris will announce this season’s rendition.
Rarely has it had a player like Denard Robinson—meet “Mr. Lightning,” Michigan’s quarterback of the present and future. When Robinson is healthy, he is the most dynamic player in the nation. Bar none, the teams in the Big Ten Conference probably would agree. Robinson won the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2010.
He was on pace to set all kinds of NCAA records. Then he injured his shoulder, knee and finger and was hobbled for a lot of the season. He still became the first NCAA quarterback to rush and pass for over 1,500 yards in a single season.
He started the season like he wanted to be a Heisman finalist. Injuries slowed him down, but he should be back and ready to go for the Gator Bowl.
“[Robinson] is going to be the most dynamic player we’ve ever faced,” said Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen.
Under Urban Meyer at three different schools, Mullen was an apprentice. He learned from Meyer at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida. Mullen was even involved in recruiting Robinson. He was like a man on a mission to get him, but Michigan won out.
What is the Gator Bowl Association’s winning mission? They aim to “provide Northeast Florida with the very best in college athletics and related activities.”
In the University of Michigan Wolverines, they’re bringing in one of the active “legends and leaders” in college football lore. Their maize and gold helmets are, perhaps, the most distinctive in NCAA FBS Division I athletics.
The 2011 Gator Bowl marks Michigan and Mississippi State’s first meeting in college football. Neither team has won a national championship in the BCS era.
This will be the third Gator Bowl appearance for the Wolverines, and the first for Mississippi State. By losing to North Carolina in 1979 and beating Ole Miss in 1991, Michigan split two.
Including Pat Sullivan and George Rogers, the Gator Bowl has featured a few Heisman Trophy winners over the years. The Bulldogs don’t have any, but the Wolverines have had three Heisman Trophy winners in its almost ancient program’s history.
The Bulldogs compete in the SEC West—one of the toughest divisions in college football. They will try to make sure Michigan’s third Gator Bowl appearance isn’t a charm.
A program in need of some lucky charms, the Wolverines come in while their program is trying to climb out of mediocrity mode. Ohio State smashed them, 37-7, in the last game of the 2010 season. The Wolverines have now lost to their arch rival seven times in a row and nine out of the last 10—and running.
Mississippi State can run the ball with some of the best of them. They’re ranked No. 16 in run offense in the FBS. Both teams will have had almost a month to get better, but I don’t know if it’s enough time for the Wolverines. Michigan is ranked No. 108 in run defense. Prospects of Michigan’s defense stopping the Bulldogs seem slim.
Mississippi State’s defense only gives up 20 points per game. If they can devise a scheme to stop Robinson, then they pretty much stop Michigan.
While the Bulldogs pass game is not elite, it is sufficient for their purposes for now. If they can build a sizeable lead and force Michigan to pass, then Robinson becomes somewhat negated—one dimensional.
In the 1978 Gator Bowl, former Ohio State coach Woody Hayes went ballistic after Art Schlichter threw an interception. Hayes unleashed his venom by throwing punches at a padded Clemson player. Hayes lost his job right after he slugged the Clemson dude. Before then, Hayes was a Michigan foe and nemesis from 1951-78.
Rodriguez is fighting to keep his job. He’s been under fire for the last two seasons in Ann Arbor, Mich. Michigan’s almost ancient college football tradition has fallen on what many fans consider hard times in recent years. A win will give the maize and gold some momentum going into next season.
On the other side, if Mullen can beat a more experienced coach, then he gains more name recognition for his program. Rich Rodriguez could very well be gone before next season. I hope he keeps his job.
The Bulldogs will win it, though, because of their balanced offense and defense. They could be a team on the rise and may challenge for the SEC crown next season. That remains to be seen, but they will defeat Michigan, 35-27.