On New Years Day, Michigan and Mississippi State will meet in Jacksonville, Florida for the 2011 Progressive Gator Bowl. The Gator Bowl is the first Bowl Game for either team in two seasons, so it will be nice for both teams to go from not making the post season at all, to making a January 1st Bowl Game.
Many people have labeled Mississippi State the overwhelming favorite in this game because of Mississippi State's high powered offense against a putrid Michigan defense which surrendered 2,252 rushing yards in the 2010 season.
If you look at this game on paper, yes, Mississippi State should beat Michigan. Mississippi State ranked 16th nationally in rush yards per game and they are going against a horrendous Michigan rush defense. The Bulldogs rank 27th nationally in points allowed per game, only giving up 20. This is also a team who lost by only 3 points to #1 Auburn and held Heisman Trophy Winner Cam Newton to his lowest per carry average all season. The Bulldogs also beat Florida in Gainesville, and took #8 Arkansas into two overtimes before ultimately losing by only 7.
So yes, in retrospect, you would think Mississippi State would be the favorite in this game, but as Lee Corso would say, not so fast my friend. Michigan holds the sixth nationally ranked offense—boy are they good. You can't blame Michigan's offense much if at all for it's mediocre 7-5 record, because they rank 11th in rushing yards at 251.1 yards per game, 21st in points scored at 34.3 points per game, and 36th in passing yards per game at 249.8 yards per game.
While all of these statistics are fun to talk about and compare, it's not the reason why Michigan is going to win this game. I look at Bowl Games as the beginning of a new season, just because of how long of a gap there is between the end of the regular season and the Bowl Game.
If you really follow College Football, you know that Rich Rodriguez has been under siege since arriving in Ann Arbor, he had a messy break up with West Virginia and it didn't get much better when he arrived in the tree city. We all know the poor statistics that Rodriguez boasts over his three seasons as the Head Coach of the Maize and Blue, and we all know how much scrutiny Rodriguez has been under in his three years at Michigan, and that's exactly why Michigan will win this game.
Michigan Athletic Director David Brandon has uttered multiple times that he will evaluate Rodriguez's future at Michigan after the Gator Bowl, and many fans and alumni truly believe this is Rodriguez's last year in Ann Arbor.
As a Michigan fan, I look at this game as being for Rich Rodriguez's job and nothing else. I think if Michigan wins, Rich Rod gets one more year in Ann Arbor. If Michigan loses, I think Rodriguez kicks the bucket as Michigan's Head Coach.
Michigan's players have bought into Rich Rod's system, they believe in him, and they want him to stay their Head Coach for at least one more season. I think this is a huge incentive for the Maize and Blue, they realize they are playing for their coach's job, and I think that will power them to victory.
The Wolverines' star Quarterback Denard Robinson gets to go back home for the first time since being recruited by Rodriguez and play in front of his family, friends, and old high school classmates, and I think that will be a huge incentive to him to play well in front of the people who are there to support him. So Michigan's leader has incentive to play for his coach's job and play well for his family and friends, I think I'll take Denard to lead his Wolverines to victory.
Keys to Victory
Have a sequel to the defensive performance you had against Cam Newton and Auburn. The Bulldogs did a great job of bottling up Newton in their September 9th match up against Auburn, holding Newton to only 70 yards rushing with a 3.9 per carry average, and only 136 yards passing. If Mississippi State can force Robinson into mistakes and bottle him up, then the Bulldogs should win this game easily.
Offensively Michigan is going to have to get Denard Robinson into open space and allow him to run, and it wouldn't kill the Wolverines to have any of their three talented running backs to step up and take some of the heat off Robinson. Michigan is very good at play action pass plays when their running game is going well, the defense has to respect Robinson's running ability, so when he pulls up to pass it could be a touchdown in the blink of an eye. Defensively Michigan must contain Quarterback Chris Relf and Running Back Vick Ballard. Relf is similar to Robinson in his dual threat abilities, passing for over 1,500 yards and rushing for nearly 700 with a combined 14 touchdowns running and passing. Ballard is a very talented Running Back who ran for nearly 900 yards and 16 touchdowns.
While the odds favor the Bulldogs in this match up, I think Michigan has too much incentive in this one. The Wolverines are fighting for their coach's job, and Denard Robinson is playing in his home state in front of family and friends. Michigan's offense will outscore Mississippi State's.
Michigan 35, Mississippi State 24