MSU gets spot for first Outback Bowl

Staff Writer

Mississippi State is heading back to the Sunshine State for a New Year’s Day bowl game.

It was announced on Sunday that the Bulldogs will make their first-ever appearance in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Florida. MSU will face off against Iowa at 11 a.m. on January 1, 2019 at Raymond James Stadium – the home of the National Football League’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“I am thrilled for our team and our tremendous group of seniors who have earned the opportunity to go out with a New Year's Day bowl in the state of Florida," Mississippi State first-year head coach Joe Moorhead said in a school release. "The Outback Bowl is the perfect destination for our team. I have always had tremendous respect for (Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz) and his Iowa teams."

Mississippi State’s selection makes this year the ninth straight season in which the Bulldogs have reached a bowl game. It’s now the sixth time over that span that MSU will conclude a season in the state of Florida. 

The Bulldogs have played in the Gator/TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville three times, the Orange Bowl in Miami once, as well as appeared in the St. Petersburg Bowl over the last nine campaigns. Now, MSU can add Tampa and the Outback Bowl to the list.

"We are excited to accept a bid to our first Outback Bowl to cap off Joe Moorhead’s successful first season as our head football coach," MSU Athletic Director John Cohen said. "I want to congratulate our team and our coaching staff for earning our program's ninth straight bowl appearance. This team featured college football's best defense and demonstrated overall improvement throughout the year, as shown by winning four of its last five games, including a dominant win in a rivalry game to finish the regular season. Tampa is a great city with an endless number of entertainment opportunities for our fans and we always look forward to playing in an NFL stadium. I encourage our Bulldog family to pack Raymond James Stadium and send our seniors out the right way."

Mississippi State earned its bowl berth on the heels of an 8-4 season. At No. 18, MSU was the sixth-highest ranked Southeastern Conference team in the final College Football Playoff rankings released on Sunday. That mark is MSU’s highest finish in the CFP rankings since ending the 2014 season at No. 7.

All four of State’s losses this season came against teams in the final top 15. Three of those defeats came on the road. Meanwhile all eight Bulldog wins came by double figures.

The biggest strength of MSU’s 2018 squad was its defense. State finished the season with the country’s top-ranked scoring defense, allowing only 12 points per game.

Like MSU, Iowa finished the season at 8-4. The Hawkeyes also boast an impressive defense. Iowa ended the season with the nation’s seventh-ranked total defense, giving up only 289.6 yards per game.

“We are thrilled to extend an invitation to Iowa and Mississippi State to play in this year’s Outback Bowl,” Outback Bowl Chairman Todd Timmerman said. "These are two quality teams that should produce a terrific match-up that fans are really going to enjoy watching on New Year’s Day. We look forward to hosting the Hawkeye and Bulldog teams and their fans, and ensure them they will have an amazing experience in the Tampa Bay area.”

The Outback Bowl will mark the first-ever football meeting between MSU and Iowa. In all, it is Mississippi State’s 22nd all-time bowl appearance. Additionally, the Bulldogs are one of only five SEC schools to go bowling in every season this decade.

Moorhead is only the second MSU head coach to lead the Bulldogs to a bowl in his first season with the program. Former head man Jackie Sherrill also did it when he led State to the 1991 Liberty Bowl.