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St Petersburg Bowl Pick

Miami Ohio

vs.

Mississippi State

12/26/16

This isn't quite the bowl game Mississippi State wanted to be in before the season, but at least the Bulldogs made one, finishing with a 5-7 record. In its nine-year existence, this is the first time the St. Petersburg Bowl will feature an SEC school. As expected, the Bulldogs were up to -14 point favorites against Miami (OH) as seen at 5 Dimes Sportsbook.

While Mississippi State finished with a losing record, it's not to say they were a bad team. Even with the opening loss to South Alabama, all of their losses were against bowl teams. Wins over South Carolina and Texas A&M were impressive and even if Ole Miss didn't make a bowl game, winning 55-20 in the regular season finale was nice for the Bulldogs. Of course, that was a rivalry and this is a subpar bowl game. Will they be motivated against a mid-level MAC school?

Miami (OH) started the season 0-6 and then completely turned things around, closing the campaign with six-straight wins. While sophomore quarterback Gus Ragland led the charge, their ease of schedule in the winning streak can't be overlooked. Their best wins came against a 7-5 Eastern Michigan team and 6-6 Central Michigan. Those are quality wins, but every other win was against bottom competition. To make this bowl game, the RedHawks barely beat Ball State 21-20 (1-7 in MAC play) in the regular season finale at home.

Sure, Miami's defense picked it up and was decent throughout the year, but when they played higher-level competition, they gave up 45 points to Iowa in the opener. The problem for Miami will be stopping another sophomore QB in Nick Fitzgerald, who has gone off the last couple games as the Bulldogs scored 42 against Arkansas and 55 at Ole Miss.

Fitzgerald threw for five touchdowns, while running for six more to go with a ridiculous 389 rushing yards in those two games. He did it all for this offense and Miami hasn't really seen a player like him all season, so it's a wonder what they'll be able to do against him. Another boost for Miss. State is that running back Aeris Williams has come on as of late, going for 331 yards in their last two wins.

The other side has been the issue for MSU as they allowed 33.1 points per game on the year, namely 41 and 40 to teams like Samford and Kentucky, respectively. This Miami offense looked different in the second-half of the season, but again, Mississippi State is a different level than middle to bottom-class MAC teams.

Ragland has been great in his six games, tossing 15 touchdowns and zero interceptions. The question will be if they can get some kind of ground game going between either Alonzo Smith (689 yards) or Kenny Young. They still have just nine rushing TDs on the season.

On the outside, this should be a blowout for Missisippi State because it's such a drop down in competition. But as seen in previous games against lesser teams (South Alabama, Samford), that's not always a given and motivation may still be an issue for the Bulldogs.

The RedHawks are 5-1 ATS in their last six games overall and 7-3 ATS in their last 10 non-conference games. The Bulldogs are 1-5 ATS in their last six following an ATS win.

Our Pick - On paper, just looking at the rosters without even knowing what either team did this year, Miss State would figure to clobber Miami Ohio. SEC vs the MAC. The SEC recruits better talent, plain and simple. Most of the players on any given MAC team couldn't crack the roster at an SEC school. In fact, our model predicts a Miss State win by 30 points.

But this game is a classic setup for an upset, or at the very least, a surprise performance by the underdog. Miami Ohio figures to be very motivated. They have a chance to upset an SEC squad and reach 7 wins after starting 0-6. That would be quite an accomplishment.

With Miss State, there's a huge potential for the team to be flat, not motivated and to take Miami Ohio lightly. This may show itself more in the 1st couple of quarters, before the Miss State talent begins to kick in.

We're going to take a stab at the underdog here for the game, 1st quarter and 1st half. Miss State +14, Miss State + for the 1st qtr and Miss State + for the 1st half.

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