5 things to know about Mississippi State's Outback Bowl opponent: Iowa
Selection Sunday is upon us, and we finally know the destinations of bowl-eligible teams. For the Mississippi State Bulldogs (8-4, 4-4), that means a trip to Tampa to play in the Outback Bowl to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes (8-4, 5-4 Big Ten) on New Year’s Day.
Here are five things to know about the Hawkeyes.
5. How the Hawkeyes got here
The Hawkeyes started the season very well, going 6-1 in their first seven games, with their lone loss a 28-17 decision to then-No. 18 Wisconsin. However, the wheels fell off a bit and they dropped their next three games at Penn State (30-24), at Purdue (38-36) and against Northwestern (14-10), all of which were heartbreaking losses. They finished the regular season by thumping Illinois (63-0) and beating Nebraska (31-28). In the end, they finished tied for second in a very poor Big Ten West.
4. Their best offensive player is QB Nate Stanley
Actually, it’s tight end Noah Fant (39 receptions, 518 yards, 7 TDs), but he announced that he wasn’t going to play in the bowl game so he could focus on preparing for the NFL Draft. Good news for the Bulldogs. So, with Fant skipping the game, the best player on offense for the Hawkeyes is their junior QB, who finished the regular season completing 58.5 percent of his passes for 2,638 yards (7.2 per attempt) with 23 touchdowns and 9 interceptions.
3. Their best defensive player is DE A.J. Epenesa
The 6-5, 277-pound sophomore was a disruptive force all year, accumulating 15.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks while also forcing 3 fumbles. Don’t sleep on the guy rushing opposite him, either, because Anthony Nelson (6-7, 271) racked up 11 TFLs and 9.5 sacks. The Hawkeyes’ defensive line can get after the QB, and the Bulldogs have struggled with protection on the outside this year, so it’ll be an interesting matchup to keep an eye on.
2. Their history with the SEC
The Hawkeyes have a lengthy history of playing SEC teams in bowl games. Of their 31 bowl appearances, the Hawkeyes have played SEC teams 10 times, and eight of those have come since 2003. They’re batting .500 in those 10 games but have lost their last three, the most recent being a 30-3 beatdown at the hands of the Florida Gators in the 2016 Outback Bowl.
1. Worth noting …
This will be the eighth time in Mississippi State history they’ll be playing in a New Year’s Day bowl (though, technically, the 1993 Peach Bowl was on Jan. 2, but you get the idea). The first time was the 1937 Orange Bowl, when State dropped a heartbreaker to Duquesne, 13-12, and the most recent was the 2013 Gator Bowl, when the Bulldogs lost to Northwestern 34-20. In total, the January bowl games haven’t been kind to State, as they’re just 2-5, but that could change in a few weeks if Joe Moorhead and company take care of business in Tampa.