Mississippi State Bulldogs (6-6) vs. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (6-6)
Dec. 30, 6:40 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Mississippi State take from SEC blogger Edward Aschoff: After the 2010 season, in which the Bulldogs had their first nine-win season since 1999, the expectations in Starkville skyrocketed.
Third-year coach Dan Mullen appeared to have enough returning on offense to continue riding that momentum. Losing a couple of key members to the front seven on defense was worrisome, but the offense was always supposed to lead the way.
After the first two weeks, the Bulldogs were averaging 588 yards and 46.5 points, but a goal-line stop of quarterback Chris Relf might have changed everything for the Bulldogs. Mississippi State came up less than a foot short of going to overtime against Auburn when Relf was stopped as time expired in a 41-34 heartbreaker.
The Bulldogs were never the same after that, as injuries hurt the offensive line and they lost three of their next five.
Mullen entered the season with only two wins against Western Division opponents, with both coming against Ole Miss. Nothing changed in 2011, as the Bulldogs’ only SEC wins came against Kentucky and the Rebels.
While the offense struggled throughout the season, Mississippi’s defense kept the Bulldogs in games for most of the year. By sweeping the nonconference schedule and blowing out Ole Miss at the end of the year, Mississippi State became bowl eligible for the second straight year under Mullen and will look to win its fifth straight bowl game.
Wake Forest was a much-improved team, and put itself in position to win the Atlantic Division title. Even more surprising was the fact that it came down to a last-second, game-winning field goal against Clemson, which clinched the division with the 31-28 win over the Deacs on Nov. 12. Wake Forest beat Maryland the following week to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2008, and will be making the program’s fifth bowl appearance in 11 years under coach Jim Grobe.
Much of Wake’s success this year can be attributed to the maturation of quarterback Tanner Price, and the development of several key players around him like receiver Chris Givens. Cornerback Merrill Noel was named the ACC’s defensive rookie of the year and he has 20 passes defended.
The Deacons have compiled a 6-3 (.667) record in their nine previous bowl appearances and are 3-1 in bowl games under Grobe. The Deacs have won five of their last six bowl games. Wake Forest and Mississippi State will be meeting for the first time.