Sometimes bowl games revive old rivalries. Alabama and Clemson first hooked up in 1900. Clemson won the first three matchups, all within five years. The Crimson Tide made up the ground and then some before the First World War and following the Second. Then there were four classic matchups between Frank Howard and Bear Bryant from 1966-69. ‘Bama won them all. Now, Dabo Sweeney and Nick Saban hook up in the National Championship for the fourth time in as many years with Saban edging the series 2-1.
On the other hand, bowl games also create new rivalries. Fittingly on New Years Day, Mississippi State and Iowa hook up for the first time in the Outback Bowl in Tampa.
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Both teams are 8-4 [SU]. The Hawkeyes come in unranked but the AP Poll has the Bulldogs 18th. Their respective records in the Over/Under are telling. Iowa comes in 8-4, Mississippi State 2-9.
It’s not just that Kirk Ferentz’s attack loves to go over the top while Joe Moorhead prefers to ground and pound. Mississippi State’s running game produces points. The difference is their defence really gets after it, stifling opponents. When only one team is scoring, the Under comes out on top more often than not.
The strength in defensive coordinator Bob Shoop’s unit is the line. Montez Sweat leads the way with 11.5 sacks and a forced fumble on the year. When opposing offensive lines focus on the 6′ 6″ 245 lb senior, Erroll Thompson  and Willie Gay [4.5] find their way to the quarterback. It’s junior defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons who stuffs the run, however. The 6′ 4″ 300-pounder leads the ‘Dogs with 15.5 tackles in the backfield.
Iowa QB Nathan Stanley and running back Mehki Sargent will be put to the test. Stanley threw for 2,638 yards, 23 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Sargent added 748 yards on the ground with 10 TDs, nine rushing. Problem: Mississippi State is #1 in the nation in defence, yielding only 12 points per game.
The Hawkeyes’ defence wasn’t too bad, either, ranking 10th at 17.4 ppg. Anthony Nelson [9.5 sacks/11 tackles for loss] and AJ Epenesa [9.5/15.5] lead the charge. The Bulldogs rushing trio [Nick Fitzgerald 1,018 yds/12 TDs, Kylin Hill 691/7 and Aeris Williams 502/4] should be in for a long afternoon, too.
Iowa plays in the Big Ten West and avoided confrontations with Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. They lost at home to their toughest opponent, Northwestern, but gave it a go at 14-10. Mississippi State, on the other hand, counts Alabama, LSU, Florida and Kentucky as their four defeats in the stacked Southeastern Conference. Capitalising on turnovers is the Hawkeyes’ best hope but key for both teams.
The LINE is Iowa [+7].
The TOTAL is a meagre 41
The powers that be are trying to push you into betting the Over but neither side in this one fields a blazing offence. The Bulldogs rank 66th in the nation, scoring 29.1 ppg, the Hawkeyes 42nd at 31.5, but it’s their defensive numbers you should key on. Remember, the two schools bookend the top-ten in the country on that side of the ball. Take the UNDER and run.
Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction. Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.