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Week 12 Bowl Projections: Media Seemingly Split on Citrus Bowl Picks

Selection Sunday is less than two weeks away, and as they have all season, members of the media are predicting which SEC and Big Ten teams might be headed to Orlando for the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1.

Though the Citrus Bowl has been a traditional Big Ten/SEC match-up for more than two decades, last season’s game featured the Louisville Cardinals, the first participant from the ACC since 1992. The Cardinals’ appearance against LSU (a 29-9 Tigers victory) was the result of the Citrus Bowl’s unique relationship with the Orange Bowl in Miami.

In years where the Orange Bowl hosts a Big Ten team (like last season, when it featured 2016 Citrus Bowl champion Michigan), the Citrus Bowl replaces the traditional Big Ten pick with the top non-Playoff selection from the ACC. As a result of that twist in the selection process, bowl projections now span a wide range of potential match-ups.

Kyle Bonagura (ESPN): Penn State vs. Mississippi State
David M. Hale (ESPN): Michigan State vs. Auburn
Eric Single (Sports Illustrated): Penn State vs. Mississippi State
Jerry Palm (CBS Sports): Northwestern vs. Mississippi State
Bill Bender (Sporting News): Michigan State vs. LSU
Jason Kirk (SB Nation): Louisville vs. South Carolina
Brant Parsons (Orlando Sentinel): NC State vs. LSU
CollegeFootballNews.com: Virginia Tech vs. Auburn
Brett McMurphy: Michigan State vs. Mississippi State

Penn State vs. Mississippi State

  • Teams have never faced off on the gridiron.
  • Mississippi State has never played in a bowl game in Orlando, but it did make a trip to Florida last season for the St. Petersburg Bowl, where the Bulldogs defeated Miami (Ohio) 17-16.
  • Penn State has a 2-3 all-time series record in the Citrus Bowl and is tied for the second most appearances in the bowl’s history.
  • Mississippi State’s defense allows just 297.2 total yards per game (No. 9 nationally), but Penn State boasts Heisman hopeful Saquon Barkley; the Nittany Lions also have a potent passing attack (289.3 yards per game), led by quarterback Trace McSorley.

Michigan State vs. Auburn

  • Only time programs met was in the 1938 Orange Bowl, where Auburn won 6-0 — the lowest-scoring game in Orange Bowl history
  • Despite the score, that 1938 Orange Bowl was not as close as it appears: Auburn outgained Michigan State in total yards, 278-67 in front of a sellout crowd at Miami’s brand-new $360,000 Roddy Burdine Stadium. (In 1959 the building was renamed the Orange Bowl.)
  • The 1938 game marked Michigan State’s very first bowl game; the Spartans have played in six more Florida bowl games since, including the 2000, 2009 and 2011 Citrus Bowls.
  • The Spartans went 1-2 in those Citrus Bowl games, defeating Florida 37-34 in the 2000 edition before falling to Georgia (24-12) and Alabama (49-7) in 2009 and 2011, respectively.
  • Michigan State also appeared in the 2007 Camping World Bowl in Orlando, where it fell to Boston College, 24-21.
  • Like the Tigers, the Spartans have a strong D, ranking 16th in total defense (314.6 yards per game) while Auburn is No. 10, allowing 302.3 yards per game.

Northwestern vs. Mississippi State

  • Teams have met once, in the Gator Bowl on New Year’s Day 2013; Northwestern won the game 34-20 in the program’s first bowl victory since the 1949 Rose Bowl.
  • Northwestern has appeared in one Citrus Bowl game, a 48-28 loss to Peyton Manning and Tennessee in the 1997 edition.
  • The Wildcats boast the FBS’ No. 10 run D, allowing just 112.3 rushing yards per game, while the Bulldogs have the nation’s No. 17 rushing offense, picking up 245.5 yards per game on the ground.
  • Mississippi State is ranked ninth nationally in total defense and passing defense (297.2 and 168.5 yards, respectively) and allows just 19.5 points per game (20th); Northwestern averages 28.5 points per game and has only won one game this year when scoring fewer than 20 points.
  • Bulldogs defensive end Montez Sweat has nine sacks on the season and ranks first in the SEC and ninth nationally with 0.82 per game; Northwestern ranks 94th nationally, allowing 2.45 sacks per game.
The 1995 Independence Bowl when LSU beat Michigan State 45-26

Michigan State vs. LSU

  • Teams met one time previously in the 1995 Independence Bowl, a 45-26 Tigers victory.
  • LSU holds a 2-2 record in the Citrus Bowl, including losses to Penn State (2010) and Iowa (2005) and wins against Wake Forest (1979) and Louisville (2016).
  • LSU is stronger on the ground than through the air, averaging 207.2 rushing yards per game, but would be put to the test against Michigan State’s run D, which ranks seventh nationally, allowing an average of 109.2 yards per game.

Louisville vs. South Carolina

  • There are no previous matchups between the programs.
  • South Carolina has a 2-1 record in the Citrus Bowl,  with their most recent appearance coming in a 34-23 win over Wisconsin in 2013.
  • Louisville made its very first appearance in the Citrus Bowl last season, a 29-9 loss to LSU.
  • The Gamecocks defense, which is ranked No. 43 in the nation (366.0 yards per game) would be tested by reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson and the nation’s No. 3-ranked offense (560.4 yards per game).

NC State vs. LSU

  • There are no previous matchups between the programs; Virginia and Pitt are the only other ACC schools the Tigers have never faced on the gridiron.
  • The Wolfpack offense is led by quarterback Ryan Finley and checks in at No. 74 nationally with an average of 394.9 yards of offense per game.
  • LSU ranks No. 17 among FBS schools in total defense at 317.0 yards allowed per game.

Virginia Tech vs. Auburn

  • The taems have met five times, and Auburn leads the series 3-1-1.
  • They last played in 2005 Sugar Bowl, with No. 3 Auburn defeating No. 9 Virginia Tech 16-13 to complete an undefeated season; eventual BCS champ USC ultimately had its title vacated due to NCAA violations.
  • Virginia Tech has played in Orlando several times before, including the 2012 Camping World Bowl (a 13-10 win over Rutgers), the 2016 ACC Championship Game at Camping World Stadium, a 2000 road game against UCF and a 1991 neutral-site game against top-ranked Florida State.
  • The Hokies and the Tigers could have the potential to become a low-scoring matchup as both teams have strong, top 20 defenses – Virginia Tech at No. 17 and Auburn at No. 10.
  • That said, both offenses are fairly strong, as well, with Auburn standing at No. 17 in the nation in total offense and in scoring (475.9 yards and 37.6 points per game), while Virginia Tech ranks 57th and 52nd, respectively (409.5 and 30.5).

Michigan State vs. Mississippi State

  • Programs have met four times previously; Michigan State leads the series 2-1-1.
  • It’s been a while, though — the last meeting was a Michigan State victory in 1947.
  • A Mississippi State Citrus Bowl appearance would be the first in program history, however the Spartans have played in three previous Citrus Bowl games, including a 37-34 victory over Steve Spurrier’s Florida Gators in 2000.
  • Both teams have strong defenses that are in the top 20 in the nation – Michigan State at No. 16 (314.6 yards per game) and Mississippi State at No. 9 (297.2).

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