- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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Mississippi State plays in its first bowl game since the 2007 season and in its first Jan. 1 bowl game since the 1998 season when it takes on Michigan in the Progressive Gator Bowl.
The Bulldogs (8-4) have a chance to win nine games in a season for the first time since 1999 when they won 10 under Jackie Sherrill.
Who needs to step up for Mississippi State?
Senior defensive end Pernell McPhee: He didn't have the monster senior season a lot of people were expecting and went the first two-thirds of the season without a sack. McPhee was still plenty active and spent his share of time in the opposing team's backfield. He just didn't put up huge numbers, although he leads the team with 12 quarterback hurries and is second with 9.5 tackles for loss. McPhee faced a constant stream of double teams this season, and he also had help along the defensive line. Josh Boyd and Fletcher Cox both played well inside. But against Michigan and the Wolverines' dynamic quarterback, Denard Robinson, the Bulldogs will need McPhee to be as disruptive and as sound as he's been all season. Over-pursuing and/or not finishing plays against Robinson can lead to quick touchdowns for the Wolverines. Robinson enters the game with 1,643 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. He's also passed for 2,316 yards and 16 touchdowns, so you can't just play him to run all the time. Robinson did throw 10 interceptions this season, which is where McPhee can play a key role in this game. The Wolverines only allowed 11 sacks this season, and obviously Robinson's not easy to get on the ground. But if McPhee can get back there and force him into some rushed throws, the Bulldogs will gladly take turnovers as opposed to sacks.
15hSam Khan and Greg Ostendorf