St. Petersburg Bowl Preview

It’s the day after Christmas. All the gifts have been opened, and family is being family. What better time to find an empty room and watch football? Lucky for us all, the http://www.espn.com/blog/ncfnation/post/_/id/134049/st-petersburg-bowl-miami-redhawks-mississippi-state-bulldogs">St. Petersburg Bowl kicks off at 10 a.m., Monday, Dec. 26, on ESPN.

This bowl game features two teams that got into the bowl picture late in very different ways. Both teams should be more than happy to be going to a bowl game, which should lead to highly motivated opponents.

Mississippi State University entered the 2016 season needing to replace the greatest player in program history, quarterback Dak Prescott, who now plays for the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL. MSU struggled with close losses against the University of South Alabama, Louisiana State University, Brigham Young University and the University of Kentucky, all by 13 points.

Thanks to a high APR score and a blowout win over the University of Mississippi in the Egg Bowl, the Bulldogs are playing a http://www.espn.com/college-football/team/schedule/_/id/344">bowl game with a 5-7 record. It is a chance for a young team to get extra practice and build for the 2017 season.

Ohio’s Miami University, on the other hand, made NCAA history on its way to a bowl game. The RedHawks started the season 0-6, and any hope of a bowl game seemed like a distant wish.

Then, sophomore quarterback Gus Ragland returned from an offseason ACL tear and put the team on his back, carrying the RedHawks over the next six games. Miami won six straight games to finish the http://www.espn.com/college-football/team/schedule/_/id/193">season 6-6 and earn bowl eligibility.

No team in the history of college football has started the season 0-6 and finished at 6-6. It was one of the most remarkable turnarounds this season and sent the RedHawks to a bowl for the first time since 2010.

MSU is making its school-record seventh consecutive bowl game. That record looked in danger before the Egg Bowl win, so there is some momentum for both teams.

The Bulldogs feature a stout rushing attack that averages 233 yards per game and is http://www.ncaa.com/stats/football/fbs/current/team/23/p1">24th in nation. Miami features the http://www.ncaa.com/stats/football/fbs/current/team/24/p1">33rd ranked rush defense, which only allows 140 yards per game.

This game will feature strength against strength, as the RedHawks’ rush defense tries to corral MSU’s rushing. Miami will focus on stopping http://www.espn.com/college-football/team/stats/_/id/344">Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who rushed for 1,243 yards with 14 touchdowns, and running back Aeris Williams, who rushed for 656 yards and four touchdowns.

The RedHawks have one of the weakest rushing attacks in college football, averaging just 134 yards for http://www.ncaa.com/stats/football/fbs/current/team/23/p3">109th in the nation. MSU features a middle-of-the-road run defense that is http://www.ncaa.com/stats/football/fbs/current/team/24/p2">69th in the country and gives up 178 yards per game.

Stopping Miami for the Bulldogs begins and ends with http://www.espn.com/college-football/player/_/id/3125968/gus-ragland">Ragland, who has passed for 1,274 yards with 15 touchdowns and zero interceptions in six games. He is the man who makes the RedHawks’ http://www.espn.com/college-football/team/stats/_/id/193">offense work, as their six-game winning streak since his return evidences.

Miami, overall, has the http://www.ncaa.com/stats/football/fbs/current/team/25/p2">66th best passing offense in the nation, averaging 228 yards per game. MSU’s passing defense is ripe for attack, giving up 283 yards per game for http://www.ncaa.com/stats/football/fbs/current/team/695/p3">120th in the country.

Mississippi State passes for an average of 216 yards per game for http://www.ncaa.com/stats/football/fbs/current/team/25/p2">82nd in the nation. Miami brings the tied for http://www.ncaa.com/stats/football/fbs/current/team/695/p1">49th-ranked pass defense, which only gives up 215 yards per game.

Both teams are good at protecting the ball by limiting turnovers. MSU is tied for http://www.ncaa.com/stats/football/fbs/current/team/29">31st in the country at plus-5 in turnover margin, and Miami is http://www.ncaa.com/stats/football/fbs/current/team/29">tied for 43rd with a plus-3 turnover margin.

This season, the Bulldogs have 16 turnovers (6 fumbles and 10 interceptions) and forced turnovers on opponents 21 times (8 fumbles and 13 interceptions). The RedHawks have also forced 21 turnovers (7 fumbles and 14 interceptions) but have given the ball away 18 times (12 fumbles and 6 interceptions).

MSU is the first of 14 SEC teams set to play in a bowl game. The Bulldogs get a chance to set the tone for the conference in bowl play.

Miami out of the MAC would love to put some MAC-tion on the SEC with a win. However, the RedHawks only had to beat two teams that finished 6-6 or better during its six-game winning streak.

This game should be close early as the Bulldogs try to use their rushing attack to wear down the RedHawks. In the second half, the more talented MSU team should begin to take over and begin to pull away from Miami.

Turnovers are going to be the key for both teams. The team that can force and win the turnover battle will have the upper hand.

Prediction: MSU 31 | Miami 23


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