Posted: Friday December 31, 2010 11:42AM ; Updated: Friday December 31, 2010 11:42AM
Andy Staples
Andy Staples>ARCHIVE

Bowl Breakdown: Gator

Story Highlights

This could be Rich Rodriguez's last game as Michigan coach -- or not

If Denard Robinson can avoid injury, Michigan's offense should hum

Even the SEC's 10th scoring offense will look good against Michigan's D

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If Denard Robinson can make it through the game without getting injured, Michigan's offense should hum.
If Denard Robinson can make it through the game without getting injured, Michigan's offense should hum.
AP

Michigan (7-5) vs. No. 21 Mississippi State (8-4)
Jan. 1, 1:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

Reason to watch: This could be the final game at Michigan for Coach Rich Rodriguez. Or not. Rodriguez's buyout drops from $4 million to $2.5 million on Saturday, but a $1.5 million savings doesn't seem like a good reason for a program as wealthy as Michigan's to string everyone along. The obvious replacement candidate is Stanford's Jim Harbaugh, the former Michigan quarterback who will coach the Cardinal in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 3. Another option for Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon is to keep Rodriguez and overhaul the defensive staff. Brandon might already know what he wants to do, but the rest of us probably will have to wait until after this game to find out what that is.

Keep an eye on: Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson has proclaimed himself 100 percent healthy, and it has been a while since the sophomore could say that. Robinson has injured his knee, his shoulder, his fingers and just about everything else this season, but when he is healthy, he is electrifying. Through Michigan's first six games, Robinson averaged 203.8 passing yards and 165.2 rushing yards. If that Robinson shows up in Jacksonville, Michigan's offense should hum. But if Mississippi State knocks Robinson out of the game, the Wolverines could have issues. Backup quarterback Tate Forcier was ruled ineligible (reportedly because of academics) on Thursday. That leaves freshman Devin Gardner, who had planned to seek a medical hardship waiver because back trouble limited him to four games this season. Gardner has spent most of Michigan's bowl preparation simulating Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf.

Did you know: Relf will shed his usual No. 14 to wear No. 36 in honor of late teammate Nick Bell, who died of cancer in November. Bell started three games in September. After he complained of a severe headache, doctors discovered cancer in his brain.

Final analysis: Mississippi State ranked 10th in the SEC in scoring offense (27.1 points a game), but Michigan's defense can make any offense look like a juggernaut. The Wolverines finished ranked No. 102 in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 33.8 points a game. In Michigan's final six games, the Wolverines allowed an average of 40.8 points a game.

The pick: Mississippi State 38, Michigan 35

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The Next Level

SI.com NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline shares his thoughts on the top pro prospects in this matchup:

Mississippi State: OT Derek Sherrod -- No senior offensive tackle has made a bigger move up draft boards than Sherrod. The Bulldogs' blind side protector entered the season as a potential second round choice but has firmly moved into the draft's top 25 selections based on his superior play. He possesses the size, movement skills and footwork to hold down a starting spot at the all-important left tackle position in the NFL. Grade: First-round prospect.

Michigan: WR Junior Hemingway* -- Hemingway is a developing talent who has scouts excited for his future. He's a big bodied receiver who wins out in battles while showing enough speed to stretch the field. Hemingway needs to be more consistent to take his game to the next level, but he has the ability to develop into a No. 1 receiver on the NFL level. Grade: Third-round prospect.

 
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