Popularly known as the center of the country music business, Nashville, Tennessee, will play host to the Music City Bowl between the Mississippi State Bulldogs and Wake Forest Demon Deacons, who are slated to square off just days before the new year.
Mississippi State started off the season ranked No. 20 but quickly stumbled outside of the AP Top 25 and finished with just a 6-6 record. Similarly, Wake Forest started off the season 4-1, but stumbled to a record of 2-5 over their final seven contests and found themselves fighting for bowl eligibility. The Demon Deacons ended the regular season with a 6-6 record of their own.
After two lackluster seasons, the Bulldogs and Demon Deacons are hoping they don't leave Nashville with a record below .500.
Keep reading to find out all you need to know about this game.
Where: Nashville, TN
When: Friday, Dec. 30th at 5:40 p.m. EDT
Watch: ESPN (HD) and ESPN3
Radio: Local - 104.5 FM "The Zone", National - 630 AM
Betting Line: Mississippi State (-7) over Wake Forest
The big storyline leading up to the game, into the game and after the game will be the future of Dan Mullen.
Mullen's first recruiting class with the Bulldogs was one of the top 25 in the country, and he improved his win total of five in 2009 to nine in 2010.
He has been rumored to be a top candidate for the vacant Penn State position, but has profusely denied it and had even gone so far in saying that it was a story planted by Ole Miss to disrupt recruiting efforts by Mullen and his staff.
It will be interesting to see if these latest developments will serve as a distraction for his team in the Music City Bowl.
Who Might Not Play for Mississippi State
RG Tobias Smith is out with a knee injury.
Who Might Not Play for Wake Forest
LT Steven Chase was ruled out in the season finale against Vanderbilt and has been on the crutches since. He is still being evaluated by medical staff.
RB Josh Harris re-injured his hamstring in a game against Notre Dame and did not play in Wake Forest's final three games. Coach Jim Grobe was forced to burn freshman Orville Reynold's redshirt, leaving some in doubt about Harris' availability.
KR Lovell Jackson is out after tearing the labrum in his shoulder.
What It Means for Mississippi State
After going into the season with high expectations and starting at No. 20 in the preseason polls, the Bulldogs were aiming for a New Year's Day bowl game. Things didn't go as planned and the Bulldogs limp into the postseason with just two wins in the Southeastern Conference.
It has certainly been a frustrating year in a Starkville, but some of it can be salvaged if Mississippi State can upend Wake Forest and finish the season above .500.
What It Means for Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons are bowl-eligible for the first time since 2008 and have shown they can get to a bowl game without Riley Skinner, a four-year starter who had made Wake Forest relevant on the national stage.
Jim Grobe was mentioned to be on the hot seat in 2010. Some of that talk has simmered this season, but it has not completely escaped the 59-year old.
A win over Mississippi State would be a tremendous comeback after a season finale that saw the Demon Deacons get run over by Vanderbilt to a tune of a 41-7.
What They're Saying
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen has been reminding everyone how important it has been for the Bulldogs to find themselves in consecutive bowl games given the state of the program when he took over.
“Making it to a bowl game two years in a row, I think recruits see the direction we’re going. Bulldog fans travel and we’re going to have a lot of support. When recruits turn on the TV and see an NFL stadium filled with maroon it’s a good thing."
After frustrating seasons in 2009 and 2010, it sounds like Jim Grobe, his players and fanbase are happy to be back in a bowl game.
“We couldn’t be more excited to be playing in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. Our players, coaches and fans are looking forward to this wonderful opportunity in Nashville. Traveling to Nashville during the Christmas holiday will be a great experience for our families and the players."
Mississippi State Player to Watch: RB Vick Ballard
The senior running back from Pascagoula, Mississippi burst onto the scene in 2010 and was named to the Doak Walker Award's preseason watch list in 2011.
Though he had somewhat of an up-and-down season, Ballard still managed to eclipse 1,000 yards and rushed for 100-plus yards in five of Mississippi State's 12 games.
Ballard will look to run wild on the Demon Deacons 70th-ranked rush defense.
Wake Forest Player to Watch: QB Tanner Price
Tanner Price looks to be the next four-year starter in line for Jim Grobe and Wake Forest. The sophomore has been a starter since his freshman season and has posted 20 touchdowns to just six interceptions in 2011.
Price has been a consistent performer and has just one bad game to his resume, a three-interception game in a 25-point loss to UNC.
Though Wake Forest is 1-3 in their last four games, Price has thrown six touchdowns and zero interceptions. As the Demon Deacons best player, he will be counted on to make big plays if his program expects to leave Nashville with a win.
Key Matchup: Wake Forest Passing Offense vs. Mississippi State Passing Defense
We already know about the sophomore, Tanner Price. He does not turn the ball over, but will be expected to make plays against a Mississippi secondary that ranks 23rd nationally against the pass.
The Bulldogs allow just over nine yards per completion, good for third nationally. This is an interesting stat because Price's average yards per attempt ranks 54th nationally (7.5).
Mississippi State 30, Wake Forest 14