Mississippi Bowling | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Mississippi Bowling

The JFP picks Mississippi State to win the Gator Bowl in a close game.

The JFP picks Mississippi State to win the Gator Bowl in a close game. Photo by Courtesy Mississippi State

Only two college football games remain this year that feature teams from our state. Beating their opponent won’t be a daunting task for either the Mississippi State Bulldogs or the Ole Miss Rebels. They will play good teams—Northwestern and Pittsburgh—but neither team has the class of their respective conferences, the Big Ten and the Big East.

Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl

Jan. 1, 11 a.m., ESPN 2

Mississippi State (8-4) faces Northwestern (9-3) in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl. The last time MSU lost a bowl game was in 1999 in the Cotton Bowl against Texas.

The low light for the Bulldogs might have been their 41-24 loss to in-state rival Ole Miss. It was their first Egg Bowl loss after winning three straight.

The Wildcats are looking for their first bowl victory since the 1949 Rose Bowl. Since that win, Northwestern has lost nine bowl games, four straight from 2008 to 2011.

Northwestern features do-everything junior Kain Colter who played quarterback and wide receiver this season. Colter passed for 796 yards with eight touchdowns, ran for 820 yards with 12 touchdowns and caught 16 passes for 169 yards.

The Wildcats’ passing leader is Trevor Siemian who passed for 1,192 yards with six touchdowns, and the rushing leader is Venric Mark, who ran for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns. Colter, Siemian and Mark led an offense that averaged 31.5 points per game and 230.9 rushing yards per game.

MSU will be without running back Nick Griffin who tore his ACL in an early December practice. Griffin was becoming the main backup to starting running back LaDarius Perkins.

That leaves the Bulldogs with Josh Robinson, who rushed for 244 yards, and Derrick Milton, who rushed for 165 yards this season, as Perkins’ main backups.

Both teams are good at forcing turnovers: Mississippi State ranks fifth and Northwestern ranks 10th nationally. Many experts believe the Wildcats are the best chance for the conference to get a bowl win.

My pick: Mississippi State 33, Northwestern 30

BB VA Compass Bowl

Jan. 5, noon, ESPN

Ole Miss faces a Pittsburgh team that certainly had an interesting year. The Panthers started the season losing to FCS Youngstown State and fellow Big East competitor Cincinnati. Pitt stunned Virginia Tech, ranked 13th at the time, for their first win of the season and sent Notre Dame, who is playing for the National Championship, to triple overtime before falling.

Quarterback Tino Sunseri, who passed for 3,103 yards with 19 touchdowns, and running back Ray Graham, who rushed for 1,042 with 11 touchdowns, lead the Panthers on offense.

Pitt is playing in the BBVA Compass Bowl for a third straight year. The Panthers lost last year to SMU, 28-6. This is the first time the Panthers head to Birmingham with the man who led them for the season.

Current coach Paul Chryst decided to stay at Pitt even with his name being floated as a possible candidate to take the Wisconsin head-coaching vacancy.

First-year head coach Hugh Freeze has gotten the Ole Miss program back on track. The Rebels defeated MSU in the Egg Bowl and are in a bowl game for the first time since 2009. They won their last four bowl games with their last loss in 2000 in the Music City Bowl against West Virginia. Ole Miss has won eight of their last nine bowl games.

Bo Wallace, who passed for 2,843 yards with 19 touchdowns, leads the Ole Miss offense, was the team’s second leading rusher with 363 yards and added eight touchdowns on the ground. Jeff Scott led the Rebels in rushing with 826 yards and six touchdowns.

Rebels wide receiver Donte Moncrief is the biggest big play threat on the field for either team. Moncrief caught 60 passes for 948 yards and 10 touchdowns. He put on a show against MSU in the Egg Bowl catching seven passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns. The Pitt defense better make sure they know where Moncrief is on every Ole Miss offensive snap and not blow coverage on this playmaker.

Both teams are 6-6, so the winner gets to claim a winning season. Pitt is hoping to make a statement by beating an SEC team in its final season in the Big East before leaving for the ACC next season. Ole Miss could be a part of an undefeated SEC bowl group. Both programs want to use this game as a stepping stone to big things next season.

My pick: Ole Miss 31, Pitt 17

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