Mississippi State started the season 7-0.
Five wins came against Jackson State, Troy, South Alabama, Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State. Three more were against Auburn, Tennessee and Arkansas, three programs that combined to win 12 games.
The Bulldogs were outscored by an average of 39-15 when they hit the meat of their SEC schedule.
Still, Dan Mullen became the only coach in the 113-year history of the program with two nine-win seasons. This is MSU's third straight bowl game.
The Bulldogs have won five straight bowl games. If they beat Northwestern, they will own the nation's longest postseason winning streak.
Mississippi State has plenty of weapons on offense. Quarterback Tyler Russell has completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,791 yards with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Receivers Chad Bumphis, Chris Smith and Arceto Smith have combined to catch 133 passes for 1,895 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Cornerback Johnathan Banks won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back.