NCF Nation: 2011-Music-City-Bowl-preview

The Deacs (6-6) are back in the postseason after a two-year hiatus and will face Mississippi State (6-6). Here's a quick preview of tonight's matchup:

WHO TO WATCH: Quarterback Tanner Price. There have been a lot of playmakers for the Deacs on both sides of the ball this season, but Price enters the bowl game on a hot streak. He needs only 103 yards to become the most prolific sophomore passer in school history, surpassing Riley Skinner, who had 4,255 yards in 2006-07. Despite the lackluster finish by the team, Price finished the regular season strong, with no interceptions and six touchdown passes in 127 attempts.

WHAT TO WATCH: Mississippi State’s defensive line against Wake Forest’s offensive line. While the Bulldogs’ offense has struggled and been inconsistent, their strength this year has been their defense, and tackles Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd have been the anchors. The Deacs’ offensive line is the biggest in school history, averaging 314 pounds per player, but they’ve allowed 2.42 sacks per game. The passing offense has been the difference for the Deacs this year. Cox had 7.5 tackles for loss over consecutive games against Kentucky and South Carolina. The Bulldogs have the nation’s No. 19 scoring defense, holding opponents to just 19.92 points per game.

WHY TO WATCH: Long time, no see: It’s Wake’s first bowl appearance since 2008. After a 3-9 season in 2010, the Deacs won five ACC games for just the fourth time in school history. Wake Forest exceeded expectations this season and added an interesting plot twist to the ACC race by playing Clemson for the Atlantic Division title. The Deacs came up short by a field goal, but they solidified their place in the postseason with a win over Maryland.

PREDICTION: Wake Forest 24, Mississippi State 21. The Demon Deacons have too many difference-makers on both sides of the ball for the Bulldogs to overcome. It’s been a record-setting year for Price and receiver Chris Givens, and freshman cornerback Merrill Noel leads the nation with 20 passes defended. The difference will be Wake Forest’s passing game and its ability to protect the ball.

Music City Bowl: Miss. State-Wake Forest

December, 30, 2011
Mississippi State (6-6) makes its second straight bowl trip and takes on Wake Forest (6-6) on Friday night in Nashville in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. Here’s a quick preview:

WHO TO WATCH: Mississippi State junior defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. This may be the last chance to see him play, period, at least in the college game. Cox is being projected by some analysts as a first-round NFL draft selection and is thinking about turning pro. He was the best interior defensive lineman in the SEC the second half of the season and enters the bowl game with 12.5 tackles for loss, including four sacks. That’s after getting off to a slow start and going four straight games without a tackle for loss. The Mississippi State coaches challenged him publicly, and the 6-foot-4, 295-pound Cox ended the regular season on a tear.

WHAT TO WATCH: Johnthan Banks vs. Chris Givens. Banks is one of the top cornerbacks in the SEC, and Givens is one of the top receivers in the ACC. The two talented juniors are both thinking about leaving school early and entering the NFL draft. Banks has five interceptions this season and 12 for his career. He was one of two players in the NCAA this season to have an interception return for a touchdown and a punt return for a touchdown. It was a breakthrough season for Givens, who caught 74 passes and a set a school record with 1,276 receiving yards. He also caught nine touchdown passes and is the player on Wake Forest’s team who will command the most attention from Mississippi State’s defense.

WHY TO WATCH: The winner leaves Nashville with a winning season and the loser with a losing season. In Mississippi State’s case, the Bulldogs are trying to put together their second straight winning season for the first time since 1997-2000, when they had four straight winning seasons under Jackie Sherrill. The postseason brought out the best in the Bulldogs a year ago when they thrashed Michigan in the Gator Bowl. They're still looking for a complete game this season. Maybe they'll put it all together again in the bowl game.

PREDICTION: Mississippi State 31, Wake Forest 17. Both teams just did squeeze into the postseason, but Wake Forest was really wobbling there at the end. The Deacons' only victories since the second week of October came over Duke and Maryland. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, were playing their best defense when the regular season ended, and that will be the difference in the Music City.