There was an unusual bowl selection process that followed the 2020 college football season. Bowl eligibility requirements were waived, and as such, you get matchups like the Armed Forces Bowl featuring 6-2 No. 24 Tulsa vs. 3-7 Mississippi State. Strange as all of this seems, it can be celebrated that these programs made it to the postseason at all as few teams had more ups and downs from start to finish than these two.
Despite all its success on the field, just about every week was a question mark for Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane saw more than half of their games postponed or canceled due to COVID-19. The toughest of those disruptions had to be two postponements against Cincinnati. Tulsa was supposed to host the Bearcats in the regular season, but the coronavirus made it so that the only matchup possible was the AAC Championship Game in Cincinnati, which the Bearcats won on a walk-off field goal 27-24.
Meanwhile, Mississippi State had the full Mike Leach experience in Year 1. From the 44-34 opening-week win over LSU to the offense being shut out twice, the Bulldogs have been through a lot. There’s been drama along the way, too, with Leach calling out players who didn’t fit the program and star running back Kylin Hill opting out of the season.
This will be the first ever meeting between these two schools that have been playing football since 1895. Can Leach cap off his debut season in Starkville with a win or will the Golden Hurricane earn the victory and finish their most successful season since 2016? Let’s take a closer look at the storylines and matchups to follow before making some expert picks both straight up and against the spread below.
Mississippi State: Which offense shows up? The one that put up an SEC-record 623 yards passing against LSU or the one that couldn’t even put points on the board against Kentucky and Alabama? The switch to quarterback Will Rogers has had its ups and downs, especially early, but overall he’s been able to move the offense. His weapons have been largely young players. Running backs Jo’quavious Marks and Dillon Johnson, along with top receiver Jaden Walley, are freshmen. Leach has put an emphasis on getting younger players involved, so they’ll have to play big roles in the bowl game.
Tulsa: You’ve probably heard about linebacker Zaven Collins by now. Winner of the Bronko Nagurski Award, Collins was one of college football’s top defenders, but he’s headed off to the NFL draft and will not play in this game. What kind of impact that has against Mississippi State’s offense will be interesting to see. Collins did it all. He could play coverage (4 INTs) and he could be disruptive in the backfield (4 sacks). It’ll be difficult to make up all of Collins’ production in the aggregate, but the Golden Hurricane have one of the top defenses in the AAC against the pass and points allowed.
Game: Armed Forces Bowl
Date: Thursday, Dec. 31 | Time: Noon ET
Location: Amon G. Carter Stadium — Fort Worth, Texas
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Armed Forces Bowl prediction, picks
Tulsa Golden Hurricane
It’s hard to know what you’ll get out of Mississippi State in a given week. Tulsa has been far more consistent, yet the Golden Hurricane are only a slight (-2.5) favorite. Even without Collins, Tulsa’s defense has been good enough that it should have a lot of success against Mississippi State’s pass-happy offense. In fact, both defenses have been the highlight of each team’s respective seasons. Tulsa is the better team, but the point total might be the better play here.
Pick: Under 47 | Tulsa 24, Mississippi State 20
So who wins Mississippi State vs. Tulsa? And which side of the spread hits 70 percent of the time? Visit SportsLine now to see which side to back, all from the model on a 56-36 run on top-rated college football picks this season.
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