Two talented sophomore quarterbacks get their first college postseason exposure when Mississippi State takes on Miami (Ohio) in the St. Petersburg Bowl on Dec. 26. Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald led the SEC in total offense with 3,530 yards – 1,243 on the ground – and had a hand in 35 touchdowns – 21 passing and 14 rushing. The RedHawks became a different team when Gus Ragland took over at quarterback in midseason as he won all six games to rescue the team from a 0-6 start, throwing for 15 touchdowns – nine in the last three games – without an interception.
The Bulldogs make their school-record seventh straight trip to a bowl game despite a 5-7 record, getting added as an eligible team to help fill the enormous bowl schedule because of their academic standing after a 55-20 victory over Ole Miss in the regular season finale. Miami’s remarkable turnaround qualified the RedHawks for their first bowl since the 2010 season when they took down Middle Tennessee 35-21 in the Go.Daddy Bowl. “They are a much different team at the back end of the season than they were at the beginning of the season just based on the confidence they play with,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen told reporters. “It is going to be a great challenge for us.”
Mississippi State’s offense stepped it up in the second half of the season, averaging more than 45 points in the five games that were not against No. 1 Alabama, while Miami improved defensively after giving up an average of almost 30 points during the 0-6 start. The Bulldogs scored 24.8 points per game in the first six of the season and Fitzgerald was key to the revival, rushing for at least 100 yards in five of the six second-half contests – 258 against Ole Miss – while throwing for five touchdowns and no interceptions in the final two games. Sophomore De’Andre Montgomery and junior Heath Harding each have picked off four passes for the RedHawks.
TV: 11 a.m. ET, ESPN.
LINE HISTORY: Since opening this bowl as 11.5-point favorites, Mississippi has been bet all the way to two-touchdown faves. The total hit the board at 58 and that’s where the number currently sits. View the complete line history here.
WEATHER REPORT: Dome.
Miami (Ohio) – QB Billy Bahl (questionable, shoulder), DL Zach Smierciak (questionable, personal), OL Jordan Rigg (questionable, undisclosed), OL Collin Buchanan (questionable, undisclosed), OL Danny Godlevske (questionable, undisclosed), OL Matt Skibinski (questionable, undisclosed), TE Nate Becker (out for season, undisclosed), OL Zach Hovey (out for season, undisclosed)
Mississippi State – DB John Hankerson (out indefinitely, suspension)
ABOUT MIAMI (6-6 SU, 8-4 SU, 4-8 OU): The Redhawks are the first team in NCAA history to start the season 0-6 before winning six straight and averaged almost 30 points during the streak to do it while limiting four of six opponents to 20 or fewer. Ragland completed 62.4 percent of his passes and also rushed for two scores while sophomores Alonzo Smith and Kenny Young combined for 1,179 yards to go along with five touchdowns on the ground. Sophomore James Gardner (40 catches, 658 yards, five TDs), junior Jared Murphy (42, 532, five) and senior Rokeem Williams (22, 463, three) give Ragland three dangerous options in the air.
ABOUT MISSISSIPPI STATE (5-7 SU, 5-7 ATS, 7-5 OU): Senior Fred Ross is Fitzgerald’s top target with 68 receptions for 873 yards and 12 touchdowns while junior Donald Gray has also contributed with 39 catches and 691 yards to go along with five scores. Fitzgerald logged 52 more carries than anyone else on the team, but sophomore Aeris Williams is quite capable after accumulating 656 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. The Bulldogs often struggled on defense (110th in the nation in yards allowed per game), but senior linebacker Richie Brown (93 tackles) and senior lineman Johnathan Calvin (seven sacks) had their moments.
* Redhawks are 5-1 ATS in their last 6 games overall.
* Bulldogs are 1-5 ATS in their last 6 games following a ATS win.
* Under is 4-1 in Redhawks last 5 neutral site games.
* Over is 6-0 in Bulldogs last 6 games overall.
Check out all the hot and cold trends here.
COVERS CONSENSUS: The public is siding with the favorite in this bowl game, with 66 percent of bettors on Mississippi State. As for the total, 58 percent of wagers are backing the Over. Check out full consensus date here.