New Years Day has many traditions, but none are better than a marathon of great bowl games! 2019 kicks off with the Outback Bowl between the Mississippi State Bulldogs and the Iowa Hawkeyes. This is the third of four match-ups between the Big Ten and the SEC, with the SEC taking the first two by a combined score of 104-29. The game is televised by ESPN and is set to start at 12 P.M. (ET). The two schools have never met on the gridiron before, and both bring in 8-4 records. Iowa had some tough losses down the stretch to knock them out of contention in the BIG Ten West. For Mississippi State, they rebounded from a tough middle of the season to close out the season strong.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
It was a season of change in Starkville, Mississippi. The very successful run of Dan Mullen ended after the 2017 when he decided to take the head job at Florida. So, Joe Moorehead came in with some high expectations on his shoulder after what Mullen had accomplished. He was also expected to bring his high-powered offense from Penn State with him. Another reason for high expectations this season was due to returning quarterback Nick Fitzgerald.
This will be the final game for the senior record-breaking signal caller. Fitzgerald had a lot to live up to due to replacing and following what Dak Prescott done before him. This season Fitzgerald broke the record for most rushing yards in a career for a quarterback. A record that once held by Tim Tebow. He also, now owns the record for most rushing touchdowns in a career for a Bulldog after passing Anthony Dixon against Arkansas. The record was at 42, but Fitzgerald has now extended the record to 45. Yes, the passing game has been inconsistent, but Fitzgerald has left many Mississippi State fans with memories, and he will look to do so in the Outback Bowl.
While Fitzgerald was breaking records this season, the defense was the most consistent element to this football team. The Mississippi State defense has the fourth ranked total defense in the country. This along with the top scoring defense in college football giving up just 12 points per game. The best performance of the season came against Alabama where they held the Tide to their lowest point total of the season with 24. In that game Tua Tagovailoa had one of his worst performances going 14 for 21 with just 164 yards and one touchdown. Montez Sweat led the team in sacks this season with 11.5, and the team was fourth overall in the SEC with sacks behind Alabama, Auburn, and Florida. The Hawkeyes will have their hands full.
While the Bulldogs had a first year head coach in Joe Moorehead, the Hawkeyes have one of the veteran coaches in the country in Kirk Ferentz. Ferentz is in his 20th season with Iowa and has a record of 7-8 in bowl games. Overall, he is 151-101 and averages eight wins per season with two Big Ten titles. This will be the Hawkeyes sixth appearance in the Outback Bowl, and they are 2-3 in the bowl. Iowa also holds an 4-5 bowl record against teams from the SEC and look to get to .500 on that mark.
The Hawkeyes did get good news after the regular season when they learned that quarterback Nate Stanley would return for his senior season. Stanley followed up a standout sophomore season with a sold junior season. On the season he threw for 2,638 yards with 23 touchdowns to nine interceptions. While his interceptions did go up after only throwing six in 2017, he did increase his completion rate from 55.8 to 58.5. Stanley did throw for over 300 yards three times this season, and had a six touchdown performance against Indiana early in the season. For an offense that operates in a traditional offense that is run heavy that is an impressive stat. Those elements and the fact that he is 6-4 and 242 pounds are reasons why he has garner attention from the NFL. He fits the prototype at that position.
On the defensive side the ball, Iowa is no pushover either. The Hawkeyes have the sixth ranked defense nationally in yards allowed, and give up just 17.4 points per contest. Just like Mississippi State, Iowa brings a very good pass rush that could give the Bulldog offense issues. The Hawkeyes are ranked fourth in the Big Ten in sacks, and have not one but two threats to the quarterback. Junior Anthony Nelson and Sophomore A.J Epenesa both collected 9.5 sacks. The Hawkeyes finished just behind Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan in sacks this season. Nick Fitzgerald will be a different challenge for them though.
Both teams are matched even with play-making quarterbacks and physical defenses. So, do not expect a high scoring game, but it will come down to which signal caller makes the fewest mistakes. With Mississippi State being more battle tested against the tougher competition in the SEC West, the Bulldogs should end up on top in this one. Mississippi State 17, Iowa 13.