Mississippi St.-Wake Forest Preview

Mississippi State and Wake Forest were bowl eligible by the

narrowest of margins, but both programs usually are at their best

once reaching postseason play.

Only one can emerge victorious Friday, when the Bulldogs and the

Demon Deacons put their stellar postseason track records on the

line in the Music City Bowl at Nashville, Tenn.

Wake Forest (6-6) had a fast start to the season, improving to

4-1 after a 35-30 win over then-No. 23 Florida State. The Deacons’

fortunes went south from there, though, dropping five of their

final six. They did nearly win at eventual ACC champion Clemson on

Nov. 12, losing 31-28 on a last-second field goal, but the regular

season concluded with their most humbling defeat – 41-7 at home to

SEC also-ran Vanderbilt.

Still, Wake gained bowl eligibility Nov. 19 by beating Maryland

31-10, and landed a bid to Nashville for its first postseason

appearance in three years.

“I thought that we played hard all year,” coach Jim Grobe said.

“We got good effort out of our guys, and we were leaking a little

bit of oil at the end of the season – we’d played so many good

teams in a row.

“… We didn’t bring much into the Vanderbilt game, but I

thought throughout the season, we got as much out of these guys as

we could.”

Grobe certainly got plenty out of sophomore quarterback Tanner

Price, who blossomed after an inconsistent freshman campaign. Price

completed 60.9 percent of his passes with 20 touchdowns and six

interceptions – none in the season’s last four games. His favorite

target was Chris Givens, a junior wideout who hauled in 74

receptions for 1,276 yards and nine scores.

“Tanner had only two or three games that I can think of where he

didn’t play his best football, and unfortunately, the times that he

didn’t play his best, most of the other guys didn’t play their

best,” Grobe said. “But that’s kind of how it goes when you have a

team that throws the ball as much as we do. You kind of hang it on

the quarterback, and the good news is that he played well in a lot

of games this year.

“He’s a young guy that’s going to get better and better, and

hopefully we get his best game in the Music City Bowl.”

The Demon Deacons frequently bring their best effort to the

postseason. They’re seeking their third consecutive bowl game

victory and sixth in seven postseason appearances since 1992. Their

most recent was a 29-19 win over Navy in the 2008 EagleBank

Bowl.

Continuing that bowl success may not be easy against Mississippi

State (6-6). The Bulldogs are going for their fifth straight bowl

victory, occurring over a 13-season span. They routed Michigan

52-14 in the Gator Bowl on New Year’s Day following last

season.

While this year’s Bulldogs didn’t approach the success of the

team that finished 9-4 in 2010, they did salvage a second straight

year of bowl eligibility after beating archrival Mississippi 31-3

on Nov. 26 to win their third consecutive Egg Bowl.

“I’m really proud of our guys – the way they battled; the way

they fought,” coach Dan Mullen said.

“They know how important it is for us and how important it is

for our fans – the people of the state of Mississippi.”

This marks the first consecutive bowl appearances for the

Bulldogs since they defeated Clemson in the 1999 Peach Bowl and

Texas A&M in the 2000 Independence Bowl.

Mississippi State’s biggest threat on offense is senior running

back Vick Ballard, who ran for 1,009 yards this season and has

scored 29 total touchdowns over the past two years. Ballard enjoyed

one of his finest performances in the Egg Bowl, running 23 times

for 144 yards and a score and also catching a TD pass from

quarterback Chris Relf.

The Bulldogs’ defense is anchored by lineman Fletcher Cox, a

junior who finished with 12 1/2 tackles for loss and four sacks in

eight SEC games.

Mississippi State likes to start fast, having outscored the

opposition by a combined 70-9 in its last three victories.

This is the first meeting between the schools.