Mississippi State vs. Northwestern, Gator Bowl Preview

By: The Associated Press
By: The Associated Press

No. 21 Northwestern (9-3) vs. Mississippi State (8-4), noon EST (ESPN2)
Line: Northwestern by 1
Series Record: First meeting

WHAT'S AT STAKE
Bowl streaks. Northwestern has lost an NCAA-record-tying nine consecutive bowl games, including four in the last four years. The Wildcats' last bowl win came in the 1949 Rose Bowl, a 20-14 victory over Cal. Mississippi State has won its last five bowl games dating to 1999. It's the longest streak in the nation. The Bulldogs' streak includes a 52-14 romp over Michigan two years ago in the Gator Bowl.

KEY MATCHUP
Northwestern's offensive line vs. Mississippi State's defensive front. The Southeastern Conference is known for having speedy D-ends, and Mississippi State has two in Denico Autry and Preston Smith. The Wildcats need to contain them, especially in passing situations.

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Northwestern: Versatile junior Venric Mark has done a little of everything this season. He has 1,310 yards rushing, 101 yards receiving, 355 yards on kickoff returns and 282 yards on punt returns. He has eight 100-yard rushing games and 14 total touchdowns -- 11 on the ground, one receiving and two on punt returns. He averages 170.7 all-purpose yards a game.
Mississippi State: Chad Bumphis has 55 receptions for 904 yards and 12 touchdowns, and was at his best in November. He caught 24 passes for 414 yards and eight scores in the final month of the regular season. He could be in line for a big day against the Wildcats' porous secondary.

FACTS & FIGURES
Northwestern is 0-4 in the Sunshine State, losing in the 2010 Outback Bowl, in the 2007 Citrus Bowl and in games at Miami (1968) and at Florida (1966). ... If the game is close, Northwestern could have an advantage with place-kicker Jeff Budzien. The junior has made 17 of 18 field goals this season. ... Mississippi State lost four its final five games. ... MSU senior CB Johnthan Banks won the 2012 Jim Thorpe Award, presented annually to the nation's best defensive back. ... MSU CB Darius Slay hails from nearby Brunswick, Ga., and when he returned home for Christmas, he was able to give dozens of tickets to family and friends. That's because teammates offered him their unused tickets. "My teammates showed me much love there," Slay said. "I'm going to have my own fan base."


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