2011 Gator Bowl - Michigan vs. Miss State
Michigan QB Denard Robinson & MSU QB Chris Relf
Michigan QB Denard Robinson & MSU QB Chris Relf
Posted Jan 1, 2011

Happy New Year! It's the big day in the bowl season we've all been waiting for with a glut of games starting off early with the Big Ten-SEC showdowns including a fascinating matchup of spread quarterbacks. Check out CFN's Preview & Prediction for the 2011 Gator Bowl with Denard Robinson and Michigan taking on Chris Relf's Miss State.

2011 Gator Bowl

(7-5) vs. Miss St (8-4)

Saturday, January 1st, 1:30, ESPN2  

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By Pete Fiutak

Everyone would like a bowl win, and several teams and coaches need a bowl win. And then there's Rich Rodriguez and Michigan who really, REALLY need a bowl win.

It might not seem like it, but this has actually been a decent year in the progression in Ann Arbor. No, Michigan isn't at Ohio State's level, and there are a slew of major issues from the defense to Rodriguez to Denard Robinson not being able to stay on the field in one piece, but going 7-5 with an offense that at times is jaw-droppingly unstoppable showed that things might be on the right track if, and it's a big if, the defense can show up.

National Rankings
47th Total
52nd Total
58th Scoring
27th Scoring
16th Rushing
19th Rushing
91st Passing
89th Passing
26th Turnover
Position Rankings
5 Highest - 1 Lowest
4 QBs 5
4 RBs 4
2.5 WRs 4
4 O Line 4
4 D Line 3
4 LBs 3
3 DBs 2
4 STs 2
4 Coach 4
CFN 2010 2011 CFN Bowl Previews & Confidence Picks
- New Mexico - BYU vs. UTEP
- Human. - Fresno St vs. NIU
- New Orleans - Troy vs. Ohio
- St. Pete - UL vs. So Miss
- Las Vegas - Utah vs. Boise St
- Poinsettia - SDSU vs. Navy
- Hawaii - Tulsa vs. Hawaii
- Little Caesars - Toledo vs. FIU
- Ind. - Air Force vs. GT
- Champs - NC St vs. WVU
- Insight - Iowa vs. Mizz
- Military - Mary. vs. ECU
- Texas - Illinois vs. Baylor
- Alamo - Ok St vs. Arizona
- Armed Forces - SMU vs. Army
- Pinstripe - SU vs. KSU
- Music City - UNC vs. Tenn
- Holiday - Neb vs. Wash
- Meineke - USF vs. Clemson
- Sun - Miami vs. ND
- Liberty - UCF vs. Georgia
- Chick-fil-A - FSU vs. USC
- TicketCity - NW vs. TT
- Outback - PSU vs. Florida
- Capital One - MSU vs. Bama
- Gator - Mich vs. Miss St
- GoDaddy - MU vs. MT
- Cotton - A&M vs. LSU
- Compass - Pitt vs. UK
- Kraft - BC vs. Nevada
- Rose - UW vs. TCU
- Fiesta - OU vs. UConn
- Orange - Stan. vs. VT
- Sugar - Ark. vs. OSU
- BCS Champ. - Aub. vs. Oregon
There are two ways to look at Michigan right now. Either the Rodriguez experience is just too weird and it's time for the Wolverines to cut bait and get a different elite head man, which is what RichRod was coming from West Virginia, or the program is half full and the offense works, now all the team needs is a little bit of defense and the potential is there to be great.

The big matzah ball hanging over the program is the Harbaugh issue. No matter what happens against Mississippi State, short of a Woody Hayes-Charlie Bauman moment, Rodriguez isn't going to be fired just to be fired. Michigan isn't going to can the head man and then go on a search. If this happens, it'll be because there's someone in mind to step in right away and turn things around tomorrow. There's no time and no patience for another three-year project considering the Wolverines might be so close to being really good again.

Mississippi State is on the opposite end of the spectrum with head coach Dan Mullen being locked up with a fat new contract extension, and while he might not have the horses or the program to make MSU another Alabama or Florida, he has made a huge impact in a short time.

This isn't the MSU under Sylvester Croom, getting by with a strong defense, takeaways, and good bounces, his spread offense is on the verge of becoming dangerous as he's putting the pieces in place to make the program a player. The spread might not be as dynamic as Michigan's attack, but it's bruising, efficient, and effective.

The Bulldogs took advantage of a down year in the SEC, and even though the West was relatively strong, this was the program's best regular season since 1999. The defense was great against the run, was terrific at getting behind the line, and the offense was good enough on the ground to plow past the mediocre. However, the only wins of note came against Florida and Georgia, who were hardly Florida and Georgia, and the battle with the Gators was an ugly 10-7 slugfest that could've gone either way. As good as the Bulldogs were this year record-wise, they went 1-4 in division play getting smoked by Alabama and LSU, but pushing Arkansas in double-overtime and giving Auburn its toughest game of the year, before the Iron Bowl, with a 17-14 heartbreaker. Now it's time to come up with a big bowl win to make the year complete. A loss wouldn't take away the luster of the successful year, but it would add fuel to the fire that MSU isn't near as good as it needs to be to start thinking its among the SEC elite.

A loss would take away the luster for Michigan.

The team was exciting this year, for good and bad, and while it blasted Fiesta Bowl-bound Connecticut 30-10, and was able to get by Notre Dame, the signature win was a triple-overtime thriller against Illinois that was hardly a shining moment for the defense. The offense couldn't keep up with Wisconsin, never showed up against Ohio State, and wasn't enough in solid battles against Michigan State, Iowa, and Penn State. In this case, appearances really do matter, and a win with a halfway decent showing from the defense would do wonders for Rodriguez and would give him his first smooth offseason since arriving in Ann Arbor.

A win would also help reverse the miserable recent history of Michigan bowl appearances, beating Tim Tebow in Lloyd Carr's last game in the 2008 Capital One, but losing the previous four games and five of the previous six. MSU has won three straight bowl games, but it has only been to three post-season games since 1999 with the 10-3 2007 Liberty Bowl win over UCF the only appearance since 2000. Both teams are well-motivated, both teams are going to care, and both are going to go full-tilt for the full sixty minutes. They should be able to keep up the recent tradition of good Gator Bowls.

Lost in the New Year's Day shuffle with the Capital One and Outback more prestigious, the Gator has been every bit as good at times over the last few seasons highlighted by the 2008 Texas Tech thriller over Virginia and the 2007 West Virginia win over Georgia Tech. With the way these two run the ball, this should be worth hitting the couch for.

Players to Watch: There was a time in mid-October when Cam Newton was just coming on the radar and it was Denard Robinson's Heisman to lose. The sophomore was unstoppable with a phenomenal first half of the season throwing for over 200 yards in four of the first six games and running for 104 yards or more in seven of the first eight games. But then he started getting dinged up, he started making more mistakes, and even though he threw for 2,316 yards and ran for 1,643, he was stunningly out of the Heisman chase. Mississippi State doesn't have a home run hitter like Robinson, and now that he's close to being healthy, although not 100%, he has to stand out and make this his game. If he can keep the mistakes to a minimum, he can win this game all by himself.

However, MSU LB Chris White will be in charge of trying to keep Robinson and the Wolverine machine in check. The 6-4, 250-pound former JUCO transfer doesn't fly around to the ball, but he hits like a ton of bricks and he'll make every stop he gets to. While White isn't the same athletic playmaker that his running mate K.J. Wright is, he is great at closing when he gets in range. With 105 tackles on the year and six sacks, he's used to shoot into the backfield as well as hold up against the run. He needs to have a double-digit stop game with most of the tackles coming near the line.

Healthy and ready to go for the Bulldog offense is junior Chris Relf, who has problems with a knee injury late in the season. Nowhere near as dynamic as Robinson, he's a 6-4, 240-pound load who runs hard and is tough to bring down. While not the most polished passer, he improved late in the year throwing for 224 yards against Arkansas and 288 yards and three scores against Ole Miss. With two 100-yard games on the year, if all goes according to plan, he could make it three against the struggling Michigan defense.

Mississippi State will win if ... the running backs and Relf take control of the game from the start. MSU boasts three runners – Vick Ballard, Relf, and LaDarius Perkins – who ran for 500 yards or more with the 5-11, 210-pound Ballard the star of the show with 892 yards and three scores. Michigan has the athleticism to bottle up the MSU backs, but the defense can't tackle and will whiff on way too many plays. The problem for the Wolverines will be that MSU occasionally runs the spread more like an option and they'll likely overpursue on too many plays. With no push in the backfield, the Michigan defensive line has to keep the big runs to a minimum and has to force several third and long situations.

Defensively, MSU has to attack Robinson and the Wolverine runners before they get started. If Robinson has a hole or can get the defenders to commit before getting the ball to Vincent Smith or some of the over speedy Wolverine runners, vooooom. The Bulldogs are 14th in the nation in tackles for loss with White and all-star end Pernell McPhee regulars at getting behind the line on a consistent basis, and they need to bottle up Robinson to keep him from getting on the move. The goal is to get the ball out of No. 16's hands as soon as possible.

Michigan will win if ... Mike Martin is the defensive MVP. The Wolverine defense might stink, but it's not the junior's fault as a rock of a nose guard who tries to make everything happen on his own. The 6-2, 294-pound nose tackle takes a beating with a shoulder problem last year and an ankle issue slowing him down over the last part of this year, but he's still a disruptive force who needs to gum up the works on the inside and force Relf and the rest of the runners to the outside. The Wolverine linebackers fall for everything and have a problem being in the right position on a regular basis, but as long as the defensive front can make the Bulldogs work East-West more than North-South, the back seven should be able to clean up most of the running plays.

The biggest key for Michigan's beleaguered defense will be takeaways, takeaways, takeaways. The D will give up yards, but if it can make up for it with forced errors, everything should be fine. Mississippi State's offense has turned it over 20 times this year, but 12 of them came in the four losses with five interceptions thrown against LSU and three fumbles against Arkansas. In the eight wins, the Bulldogs turned it over more than once in just two games, Alcorn State and Ole Miss. Michigan's D doesn't force turnovers in bunches, but it has taken the ball away more than once in six games going 4-2.

What will happen: Michigan is going to show off the explosion. Mississippi State will pound away and will control the clock at times, but Robinson will hit a few home runs as the Wolverine offensive line comes up with its best performance since the win over Illinois. No, the UM defense isn't going to suddenly turn into a brick wall, but it won't be quite as awful as expected. This will be the reprieve that RichRod has been needing ever since taking over the job.

CFN Prediction: Michigan 27 … Mississippi State 20 ... Line: Mississippi State -5
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Confidence Pick: Mississippi State  Confidence Score: 97
OVERALL CONFIDENCE (35 most - 1 least): 27 out of 35

Pete Fiutak: Pick ATS - Michigan  Pick Confidence - 10
- With all the craziness and all the controversy surrounding Rich Rodriguez, beating Mississippi State would be a major plus to show that things are headed in the right direction. Mississippi State came up with a tremendous year and can show that its style of spread offense is good enough to keep up against the high-powered Wolverines. Denard Robinson will be healthier than he has been all season long. That alone is reason to watch.

Richard Cirminiello: Pick ATS - Michigan  Pick Confidence - 13
- The Michigan D sort of caught a break with this match up. It'll have a tough handling RB Vick Ballard and QB Chris Relf, but at least Mississippi State isn't too scary in the passing game.

Matt Zemek: Pick ATS - Mississippi State   Pick Confidence - 16
- Rich Rodriguez could very well be coaching for his job. Okay, then: Welcome to Ann Arbor, Mr. Harbaugh. Wait a minute: Dan Mullen called on line two and said that he's also coaching for his job in this game… his job at Florida in 2011 or perhaps at another "destination" program in 2012 or '13. If Mississippi State is distracted, Michigan might win, which means RichRod stays and Harbaugh doesn't leave the West Coast. HOLD ON! Some two-bit website said that Jon Gruden will coach Michigan in 2011 – it's a DONE DEAL, I'm tellin' ya. And OH, another website without real journalistic chops has JUST reported that Bob Stoops has been rumored for the job at Mississippi State, with Bo Pelini asking for permission from Donna Shalala to talk to Kenny Rogers about the Cam Newton situation. I'm so confused.

Russ Mitchell: Pick ATS - Mississippi State  Pick Confidence - 19
- Denard Robinson v. the MSU defense – ranked 20th against the run, but very suspect against the pass. This game will come down to MSU's rushing attack. Look for the Bulldogs to grind out a win.

Barrett Sallee: Pick ATS - Mississippi State  Pick Confidence - 20
- If you're a Mississippi State fan, you should be ecstatic. A New Year's Day Bowl against one of the most storied teams in college football history. Not bad for Dan Mullen in just his second year in Starkvegas.

Gabe Harris: Pick ATS - Mississippi State  Pick Confidence - 27
Brian Harbach: Pick ATS - Michigan  Pick Confidence - 14
Matthew Smith: Pick ATS - Mississippi State  Pick Confidence - 18
Billy Gomila: Pick ATS - Mississippi State  Pick Confidence -  4
Clucko (A coin flip): Pick ATS - Mississippi State   Pick Confidence -  17
Gator Bowl History
2010 Florida State 33, West Virginia 21
2009 Nebraska 26, Clemson 21
2008 Texas Tech 31, Virginia 28
2007 W. Virginia 38, Georgia Tech 35
2006 Virginia Tech 35, Louisville 24
2005 Florida St 30, West Virginia 18
2004 Maryland 41, West Virginia 7
2003 NC State 28, Notre Dame 6
2002 Florida St 30, Virginia Tech 17
2001 Virginia Tech 41, Clemson 20
2000 Miami 28, Georgia Tech 13
1999 Georgia Tech 35, Notre Dame 28
1998 North Carolina 42, Virginia Tech 3
1997 North Carolina 20, West Virginia 13
1996 Syracuse 41, Clemson 0
1994 Tennessee 45, Virginia Tech 23
1993 Alabama 24, North Carolina 10
1992 Florida 27, NC State 10
1991 (Dec.) Oklahoma 48, Virginia 14
1991 (Jan.) Michigan 35, Mississippi 3
1989 (Dec.) Clemson 27, West Virginia 7
1989 (Jan.) Georgia 34, Michigan State 27
1987 LSU 30, South Carolina 13
1986 Clemson 27, Stanford 21
1985 Florida State 34, Oklahoma St 23
1984 Oklahoma State 21, South Carolina 14
1983 Florida 14, Iowa 6
1982 Florida St 31, West Virginia 12
1981 North Carolina 31, Arkansas 27
1980 Pitt 37, South Carolina 9
1979 North Carolina 17, Michigan 15
1978 Clemson 17, Ohio State 15
1977 Pitt 34, Clemson 3
1976 Notre Dame 20, Penn State 9
1975 Maryland 13, Florida 0
1974 Auburn 27, Texas 3
1973 Texas Tech 28, Tennessee 19
1972 Auburn 24, Colorado 3
1971 (Dec.) Georgia 7, North Carolina 3
1970 (Jan.) Auburn 35, Mississippi 28
1969 Florida 14, Tennessee 13
1968 Missouri 35, Alabama 10
1967 Florida State 17, Penn State 17
1966 Tennessee 18, Syracuse 12
1965 (Dec.) Georgia Tech 31, Texas Tech 21
1965 (Jan.) Florida State 36, Oklahoma 19
1963 North Carolina 35, Air Force 0
1962 Florida 17, Penn State 7
1961 Penn State 30, Georgia Tech 15
1960 (Dec.) Florida 13, Baylor 12
1960 (Jan.) Arkansas 14, Georgia Tech 7
1958 Mississippi 7, Florida 3
1957 Tennessee 3, Texas A&M 0
1956 Georgia Tech 21, Pitt 14
1955 Vanderbilt 25, Auburn 13
1954 (Dec.) Auburn 33, Baylor 13
1954 (Jan.) Texas Tech 35, Auburn 13
1953 Florida 14, Tulsa 13
1952 Miami 14, Clemson 0
1951 Wyoming 20, Wash. & Lee 0
1950 Maryland 20, Missouri 7
1949 Clemson 24, Missouri 23
1948 Georgia 20, Maryland 20
1947 Oklahoma 34, NC State 13
1946 Wake Forest 26, South Carolina 14
1936 Hardin-Simmons 14, New Mexico State 14