Kickoff: Tuesday, noon ET (ESPN2) at Everbank Field, Jacksonville, Fla. (grass)
Spread: Northwestern by 1
Watchability: This should be an entertaining game between dyanmic offenses that love to spread the field with multiple formations. Mississippi State and Northwestern tout physical defenses that thrive on creating turnovers. Expect this to be one of the more exciting New Year's Day games.
Shining stars: Mississippi State -- Junior QB Tyler Russell is completing 59.8 percent of his passes for 2,791 yards with 22 touchdowns against six interceptions, but sprained his ankle in a regular-season ending loss at rival Mississippi and could be limited. Expect redshirt freshman QB Dak Prescott to also see time as he has thrown for 194 yards with four touchdowns and rushing for another four scores. Northwestern -- QB/WR Kain Colter is one of the most dynamic athletes in the country. The junior is completing 68.7 percent of his passes for 796 yards with eight touchdowns against two interceptions and rushing for 820 yards and five touchdowns. Colter also has caught 16 passes for 169 yards as the Wildcats do everything they can to put the ball in his hands.
Who could steal the show: Mississippi State -- DB Jonathan Banks. The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder won the Jim Thorpe Award as the top defensive back in the country. The senior has made 59 tackles to go with four interceptions and 11 passes defended. Northwestern -- DB Ibraheim Campbell. The 5-foot-11, 205-pounder has a team-high 11 passes defended to go with 85 tackles. The sophomore is one of the better tacklers on the team and has four games with double-digit stops.
Magic number for Mississippi State: 33.6. Average points allowed by the Bulldogs over their final five games -- four of which ended in defeat.
Magic number for Northwestern: 63. Years since the Wildcats last won a postseason game. Northwestern has lost nine straight bowl games since winning the 1949 Rose Bowl.
3 keys to a Mississippi State win
- Establish the run: The Bulldogs are 87th nationally in rushing with 140.7 yards per game, but RB LaDarius Perkins was a second-team all-SEC pick as he rushed for 940 yards and eight touchdowns. He will be counted on to shoulder even more of the load as top backup RB Nick Griffin tore his right ACL in practice on Dec. 8.
- Control the line of scrimmage: The Mississippi State defense has been pushed around the second-half of the season. The Bulldogs are yielding 166 rushing yards per game and have had trouble against physical teams. The Wildcats are 14th nationally in rushing, averaging nearly 231 yards per game. Look for Mississippi State to make some tweaks to its front seven and mix in some early blitzes to force Northwestern into long passing downs. An elite Bulldogs secondary won't have a chance to make many plays if the Wildcats can pound the ball.
- Protect the ball: One of the biggest reasons the Bulldogs reached a New Year's Day bowl was because it took care of the ball. Mississippi State is ranked fifth nationally in turnover margin at plus-1.42. The Bulldogs have lost seven fumbles and thrown six interceptions and forced 30 turnovers. The Wildcats are 10th nationally in turnover margin at plus-1.08 and don't make many mistakes with the ball.
3 keys to a Northwestern win
- High-percentage passes: Colter will see plenty of action, but it's important to get some easy throws early for QB Trevor Siemian. The sophomore has thrown for 1,192 yards with six touchdowns against two interceptions and is the team's top pure passer. But his inconsistent playing time can make it difficult for him to get in rhythm late in games. Getting Siemian involved early is important.
- Take away targets: The biggest weakness for the Wildcats has been the secondary. The unit must find a way to contain Mississippi State WR Chad Bumphis. The second-team all-SEC selection leads the Bulldogs in catches (55), receiving yards (904) and touchdowns (12). Northwestern freshman DB Nick VanHoose, who has seven passes defended and two interceptions despite missing three games with an injury, likely draws the assignment.
- Mark the spot: With one of the most talented offenses in school history, it's easy to forget about dynamic RB Venric Mark. The junior has rushed for 1,310 yards with 11 touchdowns. He has also returned two punts for touchdowns and is ninth in the nation in all-purpose yards with 170.7 per game. Mark must not get lost in the team's game plan.
Prediction: Northwestern 28, Mississippi State 24
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis from Big Ten bloggers Dave Carey and Mike Singer, follow @CBSSportsBigTen.