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.