2011 Music City Bowl Preview
Wake Forest Demon Deacons vs Miss. State Bulldogs
The Mississippi State Bulldogs and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons are both 6-6 as they head into the 2011 Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tennessee. Why is it, then, that these teams’ seasons feel so markedly different?
Mississippi State and Wake Forest show that there are many ways to get to the same endpoint, many paths to the same narrowly-defined destination. Two schools which share dead-even .500 records prove that one team’s mediocrity is another’s source of encouragement.
Mississippi State was supposed to be on the rise this season. Coach Dan Mullen was mentioned for the job opening at Florida once his mentor, Urban Meyer, stepped down for health-related reasons. Mullen was a rising star in the business, and even now, his name is coming up for the open job at Penn State. When Mullen decided to remain at Mississippi State for the 2011 campaign, there was a palpable sense in Starkville, Mississippi, that the program had set itself up for a big year and a decidedly promising future.
Instead, a coaching star plummeted to earth and a career lost all of its forward momentum. Mullen could never solve a shaky quarterback situation over the past three months. MSU’s offense performed really well in a week two game against SEC West foe Auburn, but that just happened to be the day when the Bulldogs’ defense hemorrhaged, allowing Auburn to walk away with a 41-34 triumph. Over the rest of the season, MSU simply couldn’t find answers on the offensive side of the ball. This development disillusioned Bulldog fans precisely because quarterback development was Mullen’s forte at both Utah and Florida, where he served as Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator. Mullen oversaw the development of Alex Smith (at Utah) into a No. 1 overall NFL draft pick. Mullen molded Chris Leak into a competent, national championship-winning quarterback. Mullen also taught a fellow you might have heard of: Tim Tebow. Mississippi State was supposed to benefit from Mullen’s excellence, but when the Bulldogs’ offense went AWOL against prime SEC competition – Alabama, LSU, Georgia, and South Carolina in particular – the boys from the Magnolia State spiraled toward mediocrity. Now, it’s much harder to see how Mullen will make Mississippi State as relevant as it was in the 2010 season.
For Wake Forest, reality is decidedly different, even though the Deacs’ record is the same as that of Mississippi State. Coach Jim Grobe has notched his fifth bowl bid at the North Carolina-based school, the most in the program’s generally undistinguished football history. Wake actually had a chance to take down Clemson and win the ACC Atlantic Division on Nov. 12, but a missed field goal (a 32-yard shortie) by kicker Jimmy Newman prevented the Demon Deacons from gaining a two-score lead on the Tigers. Clemson came back to pull out a 31-28 win in overtime, but the point remained that Wake Forest had done far better in the Atlantic than anyone had a right to expect before the start of the season. Wake has achieved well, relative to its abilities. The same can’t quite be said for Mississippi State.
The question in this game is as follows: Will Mississippi State play with a chip on its shoulder or a lump of coal in its heart? If the Bulldogs care, they should win, but if they’re not interested in competing, you can be sure that Wake Forest will approach the Music City Bowl with unrestrained passion. Commitment and hunger decide most bowl battles, and this game is no exception.
By: Matt Zemek
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