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LSU finished 10-2 overall and 6-2 in the SEC and enters the game on a three-game winning streak after losing a 21-17 heartbreaker to Alabama on Nov. 3. The Tigers last played on Nov. 23, beating Arkansas, 20-13.
Clemson is also 10-2, but is coming off a 27-17 loss to South Carolina. The Tigers had won seven games in a row before the loss to the Gamecocks. Clemson finished 7-1 in the ACC's Atlantic Division, but missed out on the ACC Championship Game due to a loss to Florida State.
About the Wildcats: This will sound strange, but the Wildcats' 9-3 record was actually a bit disappointing. That's because of what might have been. Northwestern's three losses were all blown leads. Northwestern led 28-17 going into the fourth quarter at Penn State and was outscored 22-0 in the final quarter. The Wildcats led 28-16 at home against Nebraska with less than seven minutes left, and lost. Then they gave up a 53-yard miracle pass to Michigan with just a few seconds left, allowing the Wolverines to kick a field goal to tie a game Michigan won in overtime. So while it's hard to think about Northwestern in these terms, its 9-3 campaign might be best remembered for what might have been. This team should probably have been playing in the bowl game at Pasadena a little later on New Year's Day.
About the Bulldogs: Mississippi State's season similarly can be seen as a painful disappointment rather than a celebration for a 8-4 team. Enthusiasm was high for the Bulldogs after a 7-0 start. Then came a 1-4 finish. The schedule got pretty tough during that stretch, but a 41-24 loss to Ole Miss, allowing the rival Rebels to get bowl eligible, was a bad way to end what was such a promising regular season. Also disappointing was that Mississippi State's other three losses weren't particularly competitive. All of them came by at least 20 points. What Mississippi State has going for it is success in bowl games. The Bulldogs have won five bowls in a row, which is tied for the longest active streak in the nation.
Tyler Russell - QB - 2,791 yards passing, 22 touchdowns, 59.8% completion percentage. Broke nearly if not all of MSU's single season passing records this year. Will get a chance to go up against the nation's 101st-ranked passing defense Tuesday.
Chad Bumphis - WR - 904 yards receiving, 12 touchdowns. Bumphis is truly ending his career at State with a bang, finishing with his best season yet in maroon and white. Despite being 6 receptions short of MSU's career record and 96 yards short of a 1,000 yard season, I'd be willing to bet that he'd trade those to go out with a win. With Northwestern's issues defending the pass, Chad may get his chance to help State attain a New Year's Day bowl win.
Cam Lawrence - LB - 111 total tackles, 10 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 INTs. The do it all Senior will look to go out with a bang much like Chad will, and he will get his chance to make a huge impact in his final game like Chad as well. Lawrence and the rest of the front seven will look to stop a great rushing attack, something that the unit has struggled with this season.
Venric Mark - RB - 1,356 yards rushing, 11 touchdowns, 2 return TDs. Any good running attach usually has a star running back to lead it, and Venric Mark is it. Led the team in rushing this season.
Kain Colter - QB - 820 yards rushing (920 gained, 100 lost), 796 yards passing, 20 total TDs (12 rush, 8 pass). Despite being the starter, Colter will most likely share snaps with Trevor Siemian under center. But as the rushing attack goes, Colter is the more deadly, gaining nearly 1,000 yards to go with Mark's 1,300 on the season.
Chi Chi Ariguzo - LB - 86 total tackles, 10.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 INT. Not just a cool name, Ariguzo was an integral part of the Northwestern defense in 2012. State will try it's best to keep Chi Chi out of the backfield and away from Tyler Russell.
Frank Schwab: Northwestern 28, Mississippi State 24
As mentioned above, the Wildcats could have had 10 or 11, maybe even 12 wins this season with just a little better play in the fourth quarter. This was a pretty good team that went slightly under the radar because those three heartbreaking losses came against three of the Big Ten's best teams. Mississippi State started well but faltered at the end, and doesn't come in with much momentum.
Graham Watson: Mississippi State 31, Northwestern 20
I know Mississippi State doesn't come into the game with a lot of momentum after losing four of its final five games, but this is still a talented team and the month off was a good opportunity to refocus. Northwestern played in a lot of close games this season and several of those became close because the Wildcats allowed their opponents to come back. If the Wildcats allow the Bulldogs to erase an early deficit, they probably won't escape with the win.
Bowl streaks. Northwestern has lost an NCAA-record-tying nine consecutive bowl games, including four in the last four years. The Wildcats' last bowl win came in the 1949 Rose Bowl, a 20-14 victory over Cal. Mississippi State has won its last five bowl games dating to 1999. It's the longest streak in the nation. The Bulldogs' streak includes a 52-14 romp over Michigan two years ago in the Gator Bowl.
Northwestern's offensive line vs. Mississippi State's defensive front. The Southeastern Conference is known for having speedy D-ends, and Mississippi State has two in Denico Autry and Preston Smith. The Wildcats need to contain them, especially in passing situations.