Mississippi State can 'set the tempo' for 2017 with a bowl victory

Fred Ross (8) on Monday's game against Miami (OH): "I don't care what bowl game it is or who we're playing. None of that matters to me. I just want to win the game." Matt Bush/USA TODAY Sports

In reference to the recent trend of players skipping the bowl games, Alabama coach Nick Saban told ESPN.com last week that the College Football Playoff has minimized the importance of all the other bowl games.

Maybe he’s right. How much does Monday’s St. Petersburg Bowl really matter? Mississippi State doesn’t even have a winning record, and Miami (OH) started the season 0-6 before winning its last six to become bowl eligible.

"I would say it does matter," Mississippi State linebacker Richie Brown said. "I think it kind of sets the tempo for your offseason. Going out on a win, it just sets that tempo, that winning mentality for your offseason. For all the seniors, it’s kind of their legacy, their last game. They don’t want to go out on a loss.

"Plus, it’s another game for teams to develop. I would say that most players do the majority of their learning through games that they play. You can’t really simulate those reps. Those are really good reps that a team is getting, so that’s going to give them an edge for next year."

This was a Mississippi State team that thought it wasn’t going to a bowl game. Brown and the rest of the seniors thought their careers were over. But they went out and beat Ole Miss in the in the regular-season finale, and thanks to a little help from some other teams, they spent the past week in sunny Florida.

It’s not been all fun and games, though. The Bulldogs aren’t content just making a bowl game and getting that extra practice time. They want to win.

"It’s big," Mississippi State wide receiver Fred Ross said. "I don’t like losing. I don’t care what bowl game it is or who we’re playing. None of that matters to me. I just want to win the game. I feel like everyone on our team has that same mindset -- to just go out and dominate this game. We want to come out on top to send the seniors out the right away, and most of all, have some momentum going into next year."

Ross is one of those seniors, along with Brown, who will play their final game for Mississippi State on Monday. Both admit that it’s a strange feeling, knowing you only have one game left, but they also agree that the future is bright.

Ross even went as far as to say next year's team has a chance to be as good as the team from 2014 -- the one that was ranked No. 1 in the country at one point.

"That’s a pretty bold statement," he said. "But we were young this year. We had like 20 guys on the field, offense and defense, who had never played in a game, never took a snap. They were just young guys who hadn’t played a lot of college football.

"Next year, those guys will be older guys who have played football, so they’ll know what to expect, know what to do out there, and it will be easy for them to go out and play."

Before you claim that the bowl games are meaningless, go watch Monday’s St. Petersburg Bowl (11 a.m. ET, ESPN). Ross, Brown and the rest of the Mississippi State players might change your mind. Because to them, it matters.