Mississippi State (8–4) vs. NC State (7–5)
Dec. 30, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Reason to watch
These are two solid teams that will offer a great warmup for the New Year’s Eve slate of bowls. Although Mississippi State went 8–4 and NC State 7–5, don’t let those records deceive you; their nine combined losses were to teams that finished the season ranked No. 1 (Clemson), No. 2 (Alabama), No. 9 (Florida State), No. 10 (North Carolina), No. 12 (Ole Miss) and No. 20 (LSU), along with Louisville, Texas A&M and Virginia Tech, all solid, winning, Power Five teams. Oh, and Carrie Underwood is playing beforehand, so maybe you can spot her in a box, if that’s your thing.
Keep an eye on: Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott
Wednesday will be the Bulldogs quarterback’s final college game, and after losing to Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, he’ll certainly want to end his Mississippi State tenure with a win. Prescott is clearly the best player on the Bulldogs—he finished the regular season with 3,413 yards and 25 touchdowns to just four interceptions—and he’ll be facing an NC State defense that ranks 72nd in the nation in efficiency. It could be a romp of a day for the senior.
Did you know…?
The Belk Bowl, according to David Teel, who covers the ACC for the Daily Press in Virginia, wanted Virginia Tech over NC State so as to be the cap on the Frank Beamer farewell tour. But, per bowl selection rules, it couldn’t pick Beamer’s 6–6 team over an 8–4 team if one was still available. When it came time for the Belk Bowl to make its pick, 8–4 Pittsburgh was still on the board. The Belk people didn’t want Pitt, but their rules allowed them to pick a 7–5 team over the Panthers. That’s exactly what they did when they selected NC State, which is a two-hour drive from Charlotte and boasts plenty of fans in the area.
This game won’t be one for the annals of defensive greatness; Prescott and Mississippi State’s offense should roll, but the Bulldogs’ defense, which allowed 77 points in its final two games, has been inconsistent of late. And though Mississippi State, despite a down season, seems the superior team on paper, the fact that this is a de facto home game for the Wolfpack should figure into a closer game than one might otherwise predict.