Mississippi State (10-2) is 10th in this next-to-last round of CFP rankings, dropping from 4th where they spent the previous two weeks. A loss in the regular-season finale eliminated the Bulldogs from hopes of making the four finalists in Sunday’s all-important rankings, and playing for the national championship.
Still by staying in the top-ten Coach Dan Mullen’s club remains in the picture for one of the four ‘access’ bowls as assigned by the CFP. After selecting the final four to split among the Sugar and Rose Bowls, both of which scouted Mississippi State on Saturday, the 12-member committee sets matchups for the Cotton, Fiesta, Orange, and Peach Bowls. Their criteria are flexible to some extent involving not just the actual final order-of-ranking, but also existing conference tie-ins. That latter factor involves bowls which ‘lose’ their particular league champion or member to the four-team playoffs and how it is replaced accordingly.
Thus, while the Bulldogs are through with the regular season and not involved with the SEC Championship, they—and their fans—have reason to follow this weekend’s games. Mississippi State can’t improve its own stock but will watch who wins and loses for whatever perceived impact this will have on bowl assignment.
And, somebody currently ahead of the Dogs will lose, as #6 Baylor plays #9 Kansas State which would likely drop the loser out of the top-ten. #2 Oregon would stay in the first ten even with a loss to #7 Arizona, but the Wildcats would fall. Everybody else in the top-ten today but #8 Michigan State has a game left to play.
Michigan State is of interest to Mississippi State because up until Saturday’s loss the Bulldogs were favored to play in the Orange Bowl if not part of the playoffs. Now the Spartans have the apparent advantage because the Orange Bowl will pick between the best available Big Ten and SEC member left and State is down two poll places. It is hard to argue the rankings too since Michigan State’s losses were to this week’s #2 Oregon and #5 Ohio State.
The Bulldogs lost to #1 Alabama and #12 Ole Miss. Other SEC program in this week’s top 25 are #14 Georgia, #16 Missouri, #18 Auburn, and #24 LSU. With 12 teams going to the six CFP bowls, the Rebels have to keep an eye on #22 Boise State since a team from the ‘Group of 5’ conference can be put in the final dozen.
Another game of interest for MSU pits the Buckeyes, now without their quarterback, against #13 Wisconsin. The Badgers would jump past State by winning the Big Ten title game; whether Ohio State would fall below 10th is the question. For that matter #11 Georgia Tech could throw a lot of bowl committee hopes out of whack by upsetting #4 Florida State for the ACC crown.
With the Orange Bowl increasingly unlikely now, most speculation puts Mississippi State—the SEC’s Western Division runner-up—in either the Cotton or Peach Bowls. The latter possibility doesn’t excite State fans, even though pre-orders in November mean the allotment for tickets is taken already. Though part of the CFP system now, meaning in time Atlanta will host not just the SEC Championship Game but the CFP semifinals and championship, most fans still regard the Peach as a second-line bowl. But, a convenient trip.
Wherever these Bulldogs play, they will be extending a program record established last winter. The Liberty Bowl appearance was State’s fourth-consecutive holiday game, surpassing the three-straight bowls from 1998-2000. Now it will be #5, and counting.
Not only has Mullen written this history, but in the process he has won three of the four bowls. No other Mississippi State coach had more than two bowl victories. Mississippi State will be playing in its 18th bowl game, with a 10-7 record so far.
Mullen and staff are working the recruiting road this week, focusing on firming-up committed players and courting the un-committed prospects. They also are now looking hard, as well as far, for new offensive linemen who can transfer in for the spring semester and shore-up the part of the lineup that is taking the most serious graduation hits.
Mississippi State will have a Sunday press conference once the bowl assignment is known, to announce practice plans and the bowl camp schedule.