So much for the notion that the St. Petersburg Bowl is just another lower-tier postseason matchup featuring teams with mediocre records and little to accomplish, even by winning.
Mississippi State (5-7) and Miami of Ohio (6-6) are happy to be in Florida, and not just because the temperature climbed into the low 80s on Christmas Day.
Much of the past week has been filled with fun in the sun, and on the beach; however, the Bulldogs and RedHawks are taking the game seriously, too.
It’s been a largely disappointing season for Mississippi State, which is making its seventh consecutive bowl appearance under coach Dan Mullen. The Bulldogs were selected to play, despite their losing record, because of their NCAA Academic Progress Rate.
Finishing with a 35-point rout of archrival Mississippi wouldn’t have been the worst way to end the season for Mullen and his players. However, Monday’s game against Miami, which has won six straight to rebound from a 0-6 start, provides an opportunity to feel even better about themselves moving forward.
“I think bowl games are one of the great experiences for players,” Mullen said. “The message for our guys was, we didn’t have our best season but because of our academics and how we have taken care of things in the classroom, they got rewarded with a bowl game.”
And yes, winning does matter, even if the Bulldogs would still wind up with a losing record.
“I don’t want to be miserable for nine months. We do not play again until September,” Mullen said. “You want to finish on a win. … That can really energize you” heading into offseason work.
Miami is the first team in NCAA history to overcome a 0-6 start to finish the regular season 6-6. The RedHawks surged to a share of the Mid-American East Division title, received their first bowl berth since 2010, and is relishing the attention that comes with facing an opponent from the vaunted Southeastern Conference in St. Petersburg.
Part of coach Chuck Martin’s reaction to learning Miami was headed to a bowl in Florida for the first time in 41 years was: “Well, we really did win the lottery.”
Upsetting Mississippi State not only would be something few could have imagined when the RedHawks were 0-6, but also prove invaluable in recruiting and boosting the program’s profile.
“Our kids are super excited for the challenge. … We’re super excited to play a SEC school,” Martin said. “It’s cool.”
Who: Mississippi State (5-7) vs. Miami (Ohio) 66
Where: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg
Time/TV: 11 a.m., ESPN
Coaches: Dan Mullen (Mississippi State); Chuck Martin (Miami)
Series record: First meeting
Who: Boston College (6-6) vs. Maryland (6-6)
Where: Ford Field, Detroit
Time/TV: 2:30 p.m., ESPN
Coaches: Steve Addazio (Boston College); D.J. Durkin (Michigan)
Series record: Boston College leads 8-3
Who: N.C. State (6-6) vs. Vanderbilt (6-6)
Where: Independence Stadium, Shreveport, Louisiana.
Time/TV: 5 p.m., ESPN2.
Coaches: Dave Doeren (N.C. State); Derek Mason (Vanderbilt).
Series record: Vanderbilt leads 2-0.