Athletic director Scott Stricklin formally accepted the MCB board's invitation Sunday afternoon, ending a week of speculation where Mississippi State would spend their holidays. "We're very excited and we've got a bunch of Bulldogs ready to come to Nashville and descend upon that city."
Mississippi State's coach welcomes both the destination, and the opponent. "We had an idea there was a chance that we'd go there," Mullen said. "I haven't seen much of the ACC, in-season I get to catch a little bit of games during the day. But obviously it is a conference of great teams we respect a lot.
"It sounds like a great matchup, any time you get a SEC team playing a ACC team you can get a matchup of two premier universities. The ACC has talented football teams with a lot of sports tradition."
The opponent wasn't named until hours later, for good reason according to MCB bowl president and CEO Scott Ramsey.
"This day is always a little unpredictable, from our standpoint," he said from Nashville. "You're always trying to be as prepared as you can for fan information, team information, and information for media. So you're running what-if scenarios. This year was no different. Obviously with Clemson winning last night (in the ACC title game) Virginia Tech was still held-up because of BCS conditions. With the SEC already having two in (the BCS title game) we could go ahead and announce the SEC team separately."
Kickoff is 5:40ct at 68,000-seat LP Field on the south bank of the Cumberland River. Mississippi State announced that its allotment of 12,000 tickets has already been snapped up through pre-orders, which began after the Egg Bowl victory. Stricklin was particularly proud of advance fan-response. In fact, Bulldog fans were practically prescient in this case.
"We had four bowls that we put as options on pre-order," Stricklin said. "While we had great response for all four, the one that generated the most response was the Music City. Timing is everything, and the timing for our fans is right."
An allotment of student tickets will be sold by lottery at Humphrey Coliseum. The student gate opens at 6:30 with the lottery beginning at 7:30. Otherwise, MSU advises fans seeking tickets go to the Music City Bowl on TicketMaster. The bowl lists tickets at $60 for lower level seats, $80 for club level, and either $39 or $17 for upper level locations.
"Based on last year I can't say I'm surprised," Stricklin said of the rapid response. "We took 30,000 Mississippi State people to Jacksonville last year and Nashville is obviously central for our fan base. I know they're going to have a great experience. When I was at Kentucky in 2006 I had a chance to go, see great job they do."
Ramsey is counting on a great crowd and experience. And, he said, maybe the loudest fan following in the SEC based on Mississippi State's resounding symbol. Yes, the CEO said…cowbells will be allowed at LP Field.
"When playing a neutral site game you try to be equal on both sides," Ramsey said. At the same time he noted how bowl games ought to have unique character and nothing says—our sounds—as unique a tens of thousands of clanging bells.
"I certainly think cowbells are the symbol of the Mississippi State fan base and I think it will be a notable thing. So I'm expecting the same kind of thing with cowbells, we talked about it and are going to allow it in and think it will add a great deal of character to the bowl game."
Stricklin did say Mississippi State will ask fans to follow the home-game guidelines for how cowbells are used during action.
Ramsey confirmed that the listed payout of $3.65 million is correct. "We've not published the breakdown per conference but the SEC is more than the ACC." Last year State took the smaller portion of the Gator Bowl payout based on that event's specific contract between the SEC and Big Ten.
As this bowl was founded in 1998 with intentional association with the Southeastern Conference, a league team has played here every year save 2005. It wasn't a promising destination at first with five consecutive league losses until 2003. Since then the SEC is 3-3 in Nashville; 3-2 since the ACC signed on. Eight SEC squads have played in the Music City Bowl with Kentucky the most common participant of late.
Last year's game drew an estimated audience of 7.1 million, fifth-best of the bowl affiliated with the SEC.
The Bulldogs and Deacons both will have bowl lodgings at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. State used this mammoth facility twice in 2009 for games at Vanderbilt and Middle Tennessee State.
Mississippi State completed the regular season by earning bowl eligibility with a 31-3 rout of Ole Miss. It was the third-straight Bulldog victory in the annual Battle for the Golden Egg, the longest such success stretch since the early 1940s. All have come under Mullen's management.
Now, he will take a second-straight State squad bowling, something not done here since 1999-2000. "I think it's huge," said Mullen. The coach was speaking by cel phone as he wraps up a five-day run on the recruiting road. Mullen leaves for New York City and the annual Football Hall of Fame event to be held Monday evening.
"Coming into this year I knew this was going to be one of the most important years in school history," Mullen said. "And making a bowl game has made it a great season. Obviously winning a bowl game will push it over the top and give us momentum going into the off-season."
His second squad posted a breakout 9-4 season, including a New Years Day romp against Michigan in the Gator Bowl. The 2011 team could not match last year's feats for a variety of reasons, but rose to the last-chance challenge to defeat the rival Rebels again and meet post-season standards. "Making it two-straight bowls is a solid foundation as we continue to pursue championships here at Mississippi State."
That is ‘championships' in the plural because Mullen counts that Gator Bowl trophy as one, just the same as keeping the Golden Egg home for another 365—make that 366 with the leap year—days. State earned attention on January 1 not just by beating Michigan, but thrashing them 52-14. This will be a different opponent, league, address, and date, but Mullen said one post-season aspect will be the same after how the '10 Bulldogs performed on the first day of '11.
"We're not going to change a lot about our bowl prep, that's for sure! And I think our guys did a great job focusing and playing the bowl game," Mullen said. "We make sure our guys have fun and a good time, but that they also have a great deal of practice and preparation to be ready to go win a championship. That's something that always stick with you and we'll be counting on our senior leadership to get that done."
Even before learning the exact destination and date, Mullen and staff had already assembled the outlines of their bowl camp plans. Practices begin this Friday with times to be announced. The first week of workouts are open to public viewing just as last December. Mullen will spend this opening stretch working more with the redshirts and reserve players of 2011 to get them ready for 2012 competition.
"The first couple of days we practice kind of like a spring ball practice, we go back to a lot of find and base teaching. We always work ‘backwards'," he said. "So we have a whole game week leading up to the bowl. Then when we get to the bowl we have another game-week."
Players are to be turned loose for a Christmas break on the 20th, then reassemble to leave on the 26th for Nashville. Practices there are closed unless otherwise noted.
Between now and the start of bowl camp Mullen and staff will stick to the recruiting duties. Yes, they will remind prospects what is in store for another Dog December.
"In recruiting, making it to a bowl game two years in a row, I think a lot of players see the direction we're going in," Mullen said. "One thing they'll see is Bulldog fans will travel, when they turn on the TV and see a stadium full of maroon that's certainly going to be a push in the right direction."
Meanwhile Stricklin and administrative staff turn their thoughts in the direction of getting all the bowl trip details done. Then, come the 26th through 30th, they and the Bulldogs will join many thousands of close friends for a new sort of post-season experience.
"Nashville is one of the great cities in the SEC," said Stricklin. "Obviously it's great that Mississippi State is getting an opportunity to participate in it. Of course Nashville has hosted SEC Tournaments and other events, we've had our fan base follow and I know they're going to turn out in great numbers. We can't wait for the end of the month to get here so we can enjoy the bowl game."