Mississippi State On Higher Level In Outback Bowl Against Iowa

Sunday, December 23, 2018 3:09 PM UTC

Sunday, Dec. 23, 2018 3:09 PM UTC

Get the latest college football picks on the Outback Bowl between Iowa and Mississippi State. The game from Tampa, Florida is on Tuesday, January 1 at noon ET on ESPN2. Bet confidently with tips from SBRpicks.com.

Outback Bowl: Iowa (8-4 SU, 7-5 ATS) vs. Mississippi State (8-4 SU, 8-4 ATS)Tuesday, January 1, noon ET (ESPN2)Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FloridaFree NCAAF Pick: Bulldogs ATSBest Line Offered: Heritage

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Long-time Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz hopes for a better Outback Bowl than at the one in 2016, when Iowa lost 30-3 to Florida. Iowa is 1-3-1 ATS in its last five bowls with the three non-covers coming by 17, 29, and 27 points, respectively. Mississippi State's Joe Moorhead coaches his first bowl game.

How They Got Here

Iowa took advantage of the 67th-easiest strength of schedule. It was favored by at least seven points in seven games and won six of those. It didn’t pull off any upset wins or even cover as an underdog in three opportunities. Mississippi State had the 15th-hardest schedule. Unlike Iowa, which lost to Wisconsin and Purdue, Miss State didn’t lose to any unranked teams, but to Florida, LSU, Alabama, and Kentucky. The Bulldogs thrived in the favored role, going 7-2 ATS as chalk. The two non-covers came against Kentucky early in the season before it was apparent how good Kentucky was, and against currently 10th-ranked Florida.

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Why Iowa Can Win/Cover

If Miss State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald reverts to his old self who can’t throw the ball well, then Iowa can keep the Bulldogs offense one-dimensional. It’s very hard for a team to move the ball downfield just by running, especially when that team ranks 91st in IsoPPP+, meaning it doesn’t generate a lot of chunk plays. Iowa’s run defense ranks 12th in allowing 3.3 YPC. Stopping Miss State is crucial because it’s one of the most run-heavy teams. The Bulldogs are 0-3 ATS when running for fewer than 140 yards. In those games they scored 13 combined points.

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Why Mississippi State Can Win/Cover

The Bulldogs defense ranks seventh in opposing YPC and second in opposing passer rating. Unlike Miss State, the Hawkeyes don’t have running threats. Their best running back averages fewer than five YPC. Quarterback Nathan Stanley has really struggled to throw the ball downfield. He relies heavily on his tight ends, but Noah Fant will skip the bowl game to prepare for the NFL draft. Fant is the Hawkeyes' second-leading receiver. Besides T.J. Hockenson, Iowa doesn’t have a receiver with more than 400 yards. Hockenson accrued more than 70 receiving yards against three teams — Wisconsin, Indiana, and Northwestern. The latter two teams rank outside the top 80 in opposing yards per game, whereas Miss State ranks sixth and doesn’t allow much production to tight ends. Miss State is 6-0 ATS when allowing fewer than 100 rushing yards.

Common Opponents/Series History

Both faced a Big 12 team. Miss State pummeled Kansas State via its run game, and Iowa grounded out a low-scoring win against rival Iowa State.

The Verdict

Iowa’s run defense is overrated because of its commitment to stopping the run. For example, it limited Wisconsin’s running attack, but then allowed one of the worst Big 10 quarterbacks in terms of passer rating, Alex Hornibrook, to achieve a season-best 200 passer rating. Miss State’s Nick Fitzgerald has improved as a passer. Game film shows his improved touch downfield and his zip on throws to the sidelines. In four of his last five games, he completed 60% of his passes and he threw 11 touchdowns to zero interceptions. His passer rating was better than the average allowed by Texas A&M, Louisiana Tech, and Arkansas, it was equal to that allowed by Bama, and a bit lower than that allowed by rival Ole Miss. Iowa will want or need to account for the Bulldogs’ running game. Kylin Hill and Aeris Williams average more than 6 YPC, and Fitz more than 5. Iowa loves to create pressure through its front 7, but that presents zero problems given Miss State’s proclivity for swing and other quick passes to the flats.

The Hawkeyes have just one formidable weapon on offense. Iowa faced four top-40 defenses and only scored more than 17 points against Penn State and that was due to a pick-six and more help from short field position plus Fant played in those games. Miss State is a new and better-tested beast for Iowa to face. Iowa’s losses show how much lower its floor is than a Miss State team that hasn’t lost to a team outside the top 15. Conversely, Iowa doesn’t have any impressive wins or even covers against favored teams and, based on history and matchup, it is implausible that Iowa will pull out a cover against Miss State.

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