NC State v. Mississippi State
Bank of America Stadium — Charlotte, NC
December 30, 2015 — 3:30 pm Eastern (ESPN)
Why You Should Watch
This bowl game in Charlotte has recently become a blowout affair, with the past three editions all ending in double-digit margins of victory. Could this year be different, though? A pair of teams with similar offensive strengths and divergent defensive deficiencies will take to the field in this year’s Belk Bowl, hoping to end the season on a high note after losing rivalry games against in their respective regular-season finales. There isn’t much history between the two participants, their last meeting coming two decades ago in the Peach Bowl. It was a close game then, and both of the previous bowl games between these two teams ended in four-point victories. This year’s Belk Bowl should take a similar direction, staying exciting from start to finish.
What Each Team Brings to the Table
NC State Wolfpack
With an undefeated September, it looked like NC State might be able to contend in the ACC. Of course, those four wins to open the season all came against Group of Five or FCS opponents, and once the Wolfpack hit ACC play their stock plummeted. That said, NC State is still a better team than their record would have you believe. Jacoby Brissett led a solid if unspectacular offense that scored nearly 34 points per game, and a backfield committee led by Matthew Dayes added over 200 rushing yards per contest to allow the Wolfpack to average more than 400 total yards of offense. The defense was the critical unit for Dave Doeren’s squad, finishing in the top 20 in yards allowed and holding opponents under 24 points on average. A strong return game could also flip field position in NC State’s favor, and they are also great at grinding out the clock.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
On the heels of last year’s breakout season, and with quarterback Dak Prescott returning for a final season in Starkville, the Bulldogs had hoped to contend for an SEC title and a spot in the College Football Playoff. Instead they went 4-4 in conference play, feasting on a similar diet of Group of Five and FCS opponents as NC State in their non-conference games. Prescott threw for over 3400 yards and added more than 500 on the ground, accounting for 35 total touchdowns. Prescott was just about the only rushing threat, though, leading the team in run yardage. Mississippi State had a hard time holding on to the football, ranking 97th in the country in turnover margin, and they were one of the three worst teams in the country in terms of time of possession. In their benefit, though, Dan Mullen’s crew were one of the most disciplined teams in the nation, averaging just four penalties per game.
What is Likely to Happen
The sharps at the sportsbooks have Mississippi State pegged as a five-point favorite against their ACC counterpart. This game, though, is likely never going to get to that big a margin. Brissett is likely going to have a big game against a mediocre Bulldog secondary, while Prescott will have a tougher time against a Wolfpack defense that is better than what Mississippi State brings to the table. Look for NC State to force at least two turnovers, while the Bulldogs struggle to keep pace. This won’t be a blowout, breaking a streak of uneven contests at the Belk Bowl, but it will be the SEC team falling flat and providing bragging rights to the ACC throughout the offseason. After looking like a championship contender entering the year, Mississippi State simply won’t have the same level of motivation as a Wolfpack team playing in its home state.
NC State 31, Mississippi State 27
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