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  • Iowa's star tight end Noah Fant is sitting out against Mississippi State, meaning the Hawkeyes will miss their biggest weapon in an already overwhelming matchup.
By Sam Chase
December 16, 2018

Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs (-7)

Tue., January 11, 12:00 p.m. ET

Three things to know before betting on Iowa-Mississippi State:

1. Mississippi State might have the most fearsome defense in the nation. The Bulldogs enter bowl season first in scoring defense (12.0 points allowed per game) and second in total defense (4.14 yards allowed per play). They seemed to savor playing against the best offenses they faced, holding Texas A&M (13), Alabama (24) and Ole Miss (3) to the fewest points each team scored all season. Mississippi State should feast on an Iowa offense that will be without one of its two star tight ends. Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson were both AP All-Americans, and having both on the field was key to Iowa's ability to spread out defenses and pass the ball effectively. Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, Fant (team-high seven receiving TDs) will sit out the Outback Bowl to prepare for the NFL draft. Without much of a running game to lean on, expect Iowa to struggle offensively.

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2. While not on Mississippi State's level, the Iowa defense is very good, especially against the run (3.14 yards allowed per carry, eight in FBS), which is where Mississippi State's offense thrives (5.76 YPC, ninth). In this strength-on-strength matchup, Mississippi State should prevail. The Bulldogs ran successfully against multiple strong rush defenses this season, including in back-to-back weeks against Auburn (6.1 yards per carry) and LSU (5.4). Iowa, on the other hand, hasn't locked down the best rushers it has faced. Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor went for 113 yards on the Hawkeyes in a 28-17 Badgers win, and Penn State QB Trace McSorley rushed for 78 yards on nine carries in a 30-24 victory for the Nittany Lions.

3. If Iowa is able to slow Mississippi State's running attack, a look at quarterback Nick Fitzgerald's season-long passing statistics might make you think that the Bulldogs won't counter through the air. But it's been a tale of two seasons for Fitzgerald as a passer. In his first six games, he completed a miserable 46.9% of his passes for four touchdowns and seven interceptions. But over his final five games, a switch was flipped, and he completed 60.8% of his passes for 11 touchdowns and not a single interception over that stretch. Seven points is a lot to give a strong Iowa team, but Fant's absence for the Hawkeyes and Mississippi State's well-rounded offense make the Bulldogs the play here.

Pick: Mississippi State -7

Confidence Level: Moderate (on a scale of Low/Moderate/High/Very High/Extremely High)