N.C State vs Vanderbilt
Overindulged on mince pies and left over turkey? Fear not as the feast of football that is ‘Bowl Season’ continues apace to satisfy your NFL blues of Christmas day.
You may be surprised to even see the Bulldogs present here, but as we discussed in our ‘how bowl season works’ article last week, while Mississippi State finished a transitional campaign at 4-7 in the SEC West, they became bowl eligible thanks to the Starkville school’s excellence in the classroom, or APR (average pass rate) – a key deciding factor in determining bowl eligibility.
Of course, defeating your in-state rival Ole Miss on the road to lift the Egg Bowl last time out certainly does not hurt. Dan Mullen’s young team, shorn of outstanding team leader Dak Prescott and defensive centrepiece Chris Jones (both leaving to make their mark in the NFL) arrive in St. Petersburg on a high, having been victorious in what is the most important rivalry game of the entire season.
Quarterback Nick Ferguson has been nothing but spectacular as the season has progressed, filling the gargantuan shoes of the departed Dak Prescott impressively, spearheading the offence with his outstanding ability as a passer and devastating runner (1,361 yards, 14 touchdowns) dismantling an undefeated Texas A&M 35-28 in week nine, before tossing 3 further scores to overpower Ole Miss 55-20 last time out. While ranking as just the 39th best offense in the country, when this progressively improving team is clicking it can hurt anyone.
The Redhawks superbly clawed back from what was a disastrously winless 0-6 opening to the season to incredibly concluding 2016/17 at .500 thanks to a six-game tear making them bowl eligible for the first time since 2010. As such, Miami of Ohio, like their opponents, take to Tropicana Field buoyant, making for what promises to be a fascinating fixture.
It would be easy to assume that the Bulldogs, having lost such great talent in recent years would not hold the attention of NFL scouts this Monday. However, this generation of exceptional talent in an era of success in Starkville boasts the big play threat of #8 WR Fred Ross, whose ability to cause damage after the catch (13 yard average per reception) stood out no more so than his 6 catch, 98 yard, 2 touchdown performance in that upsetting of the Aggies, proving his next level ability against one of college football’s most talented units. Ross went on to enjoy a 2 touchdown day, on top of a mere 171 yards on his 10 catches in the home loss to Arkansas.
#39 ILB Richie Brown is the beating heart of the Bulldogs defence and has been so for a number of years now, who formed an impressive duo with now second year NFL linebacker Bednarik McKinney in 2014. An inspirational, emotional leader, whose industry and hustle stand out as the tackling machine he is, having made 93 stops this campaign on top of his 109 a year ago.
We Say: Mississippi State. In Dan Mullen, Mississippi State possess one of the finest head coaching talents in all of college football, once again quietly building a winner in the tough environment of the SEC. Miami of Ohio will be a challenge but the Bulldogs have the talent and emergent depth to edge this one in a tight contest.