With game day one day away, we have our Gator Bowl predictions, along with other bloggers from around the web.
Kevin Trahan, InsideNU: Northwestern 31, Mississippi State 24 — Northwestern has lived off establishing the run this year, and that’s what the Wildcats will do once again. Mississippi State has struggled to stop the run, and Venric Mark and Kain Colter will both have strong performances on the national stage, vaulting NU into the top 25 conversation next year. The Bulldogs have outstanding corners — particularly Johnthan Banks — but NU can neutralize that threat by, well, not throwing the ball. MSU quarterback Tyler Russell will get his yards in the passing game, but the NU run defense will step up and make a stop at the end.
Chris Johnson, InsideNU: Northwestern 24, Mississippi State 20 — Most of Northwestern’s recent bowl pairings didn’t really feel like fair fights. This one’s more than fair. In fact, I’m willing to go ahead and say that Northwestern is the better team, on both sides of the ball. Mississippi State will hang around and probably give the Wildcats everything they want and more. The Bulldogs will push Northwestern to the limit. In the end, Northwestern’s resiliency and toughness will shine through. Mississippi State’s offense will dwindle, its defense will crack, and the Wildcats will hang on to a single-digit lead in the fourth quarter. Then, in a symbolic gesture of bowl-game accomplishment, Bo Cisek will scramble onto the field, rumbling with joy, rip off his helmet and brandish the famous purple lightsaber to the most vocal contingent of NU fans while they sing the fight song.
Steven Goldstein, InsideNU: Northwestern 31, Mississippi State 27 — The Bulldogs allowed nearly 34 points a game over the last five weeks of 2012, while Northwestern’s speed on the edge creates a mismatch here. The Wildcats will once again live and die by the run as corners Jonathan Banks and Darius Slay blanket the passing game, but with quarterback Tyler Russell limited by an ankle sprain, Northwestern wins its first bowl game since 1949.
Callie Counsellor, InsideNU: Mississippi State 27, Northwestern 24 — These two teams’ numbers are remarkably similar in many categories, but MSU’s strength — its passing offense — going against NU’s weakness — its passing defense — makes me question if this is the year the Wildcats will break the curse. To win, the Cats will have to hold junior quarterback Tyler Russell in check and get their own ground game going. Despite some all-SEC accolades among the linebacking corps, MSU gives up a decent amount of rushing yards, so the burden of this bowl game lies heavily with running back Venric Mark.
Philip Rossman-Reich, Lake the Posts: Northwestern 28, Mississippi State 24 — It won’t be easy. It never is. Northwestern will be biting its collective nails (or claws?) to the bitter end of this one. But we should be used to that. Ultimately, I think Northwestern’s defense is able to slow down Mississippi State like many quality defenses have against Mississippi State this year. The difference is that the Wildcats have balance to their offense. They take Jonathan Banks out of the game and move the ball methodically with that option game and those timely pass plays. Balance wins out and Northwestern ends its bowl skid.
Danny Moran, NBN Sports: Northwestern 34, Mississippi State 30 — I may curse myself for this one day but at 64 years old, this monkey will finally be put to sleep for good. Mississippi State will have difficulty stopping Kain Colter and Venric Mark on the option. It’s never easy with the Wildcats but they should narrowly eke out the turnover battle and earn the win.