NC State Wolfpack (7-5) vs. Vanderbilt Commodores (8-4)
Dec. 31, Noon ET, Nashville, Tenn. (ESPN)
NC State take from ACC blogger Heather Dinich: It was a wild, unpredictable season for NC State that ended in the firing of former coach Tom O’Brien just one day after the regular season had ended. Offensive coordinator Dana Bible will coach the Wolfpack in its bowl game, but former Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren was hired on Saturday to replace O’Brien.
NC State began the season with a disappointing loss to Tennessee in which weaknesses in the highly touted secondary were immediately exposed. The Pack went on to win its next three games, but lost the ACC season opener against Miami. In typical inexplicable NC State fashion, the Pack responded the following week by knocking off then-No. 3 Florida State in what was one of the biggest upsets in program history. It was a shocking fourth quarter that resonated throughout all of college football and all but ended the Seminoles’ hopes of playing for a national title. Despite the 17-16 win over FSU, though, NC State couldn’t translate that upset into anything meaningful in the Atlantic Division standings (a major reason O’Brien was fired).
Instead, NC State suffered its first loss in five seasons to rival North Carolina and was embarrassed at home in a baffling loss to a struggling Virginia team. NC State rallied to win two of its final three games to become bowl eligible, but it wasn’t enough to save O’Brien’s job. Doeren, who led Northern Illinois to its second straight MAC championship on Friday night, will not coach his former team in the Discover Orange Bowl.
Vanderbilt take from SEC blogger Chris Low: Counting up all the firsts this season for Vanderbilt would take a while.
James Franklin, in his second season as coach, has come in and taken this program to heights that few people thought possible. Their Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl matchup with NC State will be the Commodores' second straight bowl appearance. It’s the first time in school history that the Commodores have gone to bowl games in back-to-back years. Their eight wins in the regular season are their most since 1982, and their five SEC wins are their most since 1935. They enter the postseason on a six-game winning streak, and probably the best news for the Commodores is that they’ve locked up Franklin to a new contract. The university announced on Sunday that Franklin had agreed to a new deal, which will include enhancements to the football complex and Vanderbilt Stadium.
Franklin’s phone has rung a bunch ever since the season ended with other schools inquiring about his interest, but the Commodores have convinced him that they’re serious about building a winning football program. Franklin has assembled an excellent staff, which is reflected in the Commodores’ discipline and their mental toughness. They’re ranked 17th nationally in total defense, the second straight season that defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has field a top-20 defense nationally. Only four times this season did a team score more than 21 points against Vanderbilt.
Offensively, senior Zac Stacy went over the 1,000-yard mark rushing for the second straight season, and the receiving combo of Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd combined for more than 2,000 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns.