When the 2018 bowl pairings were announced, Mississippi State fans were expecting their Bulldogs to face off against a Big 10 opponent. With crossed fingers and held breath, State waited for the formal announcement that they would be headed to the Outback Bowl against an unfamiliar opponent. Some projections had Northwestern in the Outback, while others had Michigan State. The writer’s dream of a Penn State/Mississippi State tilt was not to be as the Nittany Lions got the call from the Florida Citrus Bowl.
The Hawkeyes of Iowa would get the nod and head to the Outback Bowl for the sixth time in school history. Iowa is 2-3 All-Time in the Tampa, Florida bowl with their last appearance coming in 2017, a 30-3 loss to Florida.
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While Coach Kirk Ferentz‘s program is quite familiar with the lay of the West Florida coastline, Mississippi State will be making their first appearance in the Outback. The Bulldogs have been in position before, but were never slotted for the prestigious bowl game until now.
In addition to making history as an Outback Bowl team for the first time, the Bulldogs will meet Iowa on the football field for the first time. Mississippi State began playing football in 1895. Iowa fielded a team for the first time a year later in 1896. It has taken over 120 years, but we finally have our first Clanga versus Corn gridiron match-up.
There are currently fourteen teams in the Big 10. Mississippi State has played just seven of them in school history. Iowa will be the eighth and the fourth current Big 10 member to face Mississippi State in a bowl game.
In 1980, Mississippi State won 28-21 at Illinois before going on to lose to Nebraska in the 1980 Sun Bowl. The Cornhuskers were a member of the Big Eight Conference at the time. The Bulldogs are 1-1 all-time against Illinois. The Sun Bowl is the only meeting between State and Nebraska.
At the conclusion of the 2010 season, Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs whipped Michigan 52-10 in the Gator Bowl. Wearing #36, in honor of departed teammate Nick Bell, Chris Relf won the game’s MVP honor.
Mississippi State’s next trip to the Gator Bowl would not be as successful. Following the 2012 season, Mullen and the Bulldogs would return to Jacksonville on New Year’s Day and drop a frustrating contest to Northwestern.
In other action against Big 10 members, Mississippi State is 0-3 against Indiana, 0-1 against Maryland and 1-2 against Michigan State. The Bulldogs have an All-Time record of 3-9 against the Big-10 with many of those meetings coming prior to 1980. The Bulldogs last faced the Hoosiers in 1932, the Spartans in 1947 and the Terrapins in 1979.
Mississippi State has never faced Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Rutgers or Wisconsin. Following the Outback Bowl, there will be just six Big 10 opponents left on the Bulldog bucket list. State recently agreed to a home-and-home series with Minnesota for 2026 and 2027.
While Mississippi State may not be familiar with the Iowa Hawkeyes, Bulldog head coach Joe Moorhead had some solid success against Hawkeye defenses during his two years as the offensive coordinator at Penn State.
In 2016, Penn State rolled up 599 yards of offense and 41 points in a blowout of the Hawkeyes at Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions would run for 359 yards on the day thanks in large part to 167 yard day from eventual first rounder Saquon Barkely. The Nittany Lions would punt only twice on the night and avoid turning the football over.
The following year would produce another Nittany Lion victory, but it was far more dramatic. The Moorhead offense would pile up 579 yards of offense and Barkely would set a school record with 358 all-purpose yards. Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley would add 345 yards of offense as the Iowa defense struggled between the 20s.
Penn State would miss a second quarter field goal, turn it over on downs at the Iowa 32 and McSorley would throw an interception ending a promising drive late in the first half.
Moorhead would get the team going in the third quarter and score on the first two drives of the second half to put Penn State up 15-7. Aided by a McSorley fumble and a blocked field goal, Iowa would take a 19-15 lead into the game’s final play. McSorley would throw a touchdown pass to Juwan Johnson as time expired.
Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker, now in his 13th season for the Hawkeyes, called the defensive plays against Moorhead in those match-ups. The Hawkeyes ended the 2018 regular season as the nation’s 9th best total defense, so a strong test is expected for the Bulldog offense.
While the game will be decided on the field by the players, the chess match between Moorhead and Parker will be an interesting sub-plot to what should be an exciting game.
Kickoff is set for 11 AM central time on New Year’s Day. Mississippi State opened as a four point favorite in the eyes of oddmakers. Tickets are available through the Mississippi State ticket office. Click HERE for more information.