Top Bulldog Target Ignores NFL Talk for Belk Bowl Priority

CHARLOTTE – Funny thing, how to Fred Ross the last day of the season feels more like opening day. “It’s been a while since we’ve played. So I’m ready to go out there and hit somebody!”

Come tomorrow afternoon Ross and Mississippi State do get to hit somebody, that being North Carolina State on the other sideline. In fact Ross and a few other Bulldogs were in the same ballpark as a few Wolfpack players today. But it was the baseball stadium next to Bank of America Field where at 3:30et Wednesday the Belk Bowl kicks off.

Not soon enough, Ross said. “It’s been so long since we’ve played. And I’m just ready to play football.”

It has been a while since the Bulldogs were on a real field for a real game. Tuesday, they did get to finally step on Bank of America Stadium turf for the official 2015 team photograph. Coach Dan Mullen has a final walk-though scripted for the early afternoon as well.

But at least and at last practice is done for the season. It’s been good for everyone, Ross said, and productive here in Charlotte for a Mississippi State offense that wants to put on a Belk Bowl show.

“Just high-tempo, the same way it was when we were back in Starkville. It doesn’t really change because we all know what we need to do.”

That high-tempo attack is one obvious reason why Fred Ross has been a high-profile Bulldog all fall. Bigger things were expected after his 30-catch, 489-yard sophomore season, as Ross was taking over the starting slot receiver position vacated by Jameon Lewis. Yet few could have envisioned just how much bigger a role Ross would play in 2015.

Through the regular season he has smashed the Bulldog record for catches in a campaign, with 81. He also set a new standard for 100-yard games in a year (five) and in a row (four). With 933 yards he’s a big bowl day away from becoming just the second State receiver to top the 1,000 mark. Should Ross net 102 yards Wednesday, that would tie Mardye McDole’s 1978 season record, too.

These weeks since the regular schedule ended have let Ross look at his 2015 feats. “Yes, I have. I really didn’t know I was close to any records, I’m blessed to be able to break those records.” Triply-blessed in fact. Not only has Ross had his own record-setting skills to work with, but he’s had a record-smashing quarterback in Dak Prescott sending the football his way.

Oh, and the complementary presence of De’Runnya Wilson, too. It’s fascinating how #1 has happily settled for being second option in the air attack, never nagging Ross to share the ball more.

“Nah, I think he’s probably a little bit more happy about it than I am,” Ross said. “Bear isn’t a selfish guy. Whenever I do good he’s the first one there to pat me on the back. So I think he’s happy about it.”

Wilson has not announced his plans for 2016, whether the true junior will declare for the NFL draft or not. Ross, like Wilson an All-SEC receiver this season, is eligible to go that route too, if he so chooses. He just isn’t saying. Or even hinting. Either way, Ross figures he’s a winner.

“I’ll worry about that after the game.”

Actually, the only thing Ross worries about is the game. Remember that he missed the 2013 Liberty Bowl with a shoulder injury. And while he had a six-catch, 102-yard performance in last year’s Orange Bowl, the Bulldogs lost that one.

So Ross has yet to personally enjoy a bowl victory. Maybe this is his last shot, maybe not. That’s beside the point. “I want to win. If that means I have ten catches for over a hundred yards that’s just how it is. If I have two catches for five yards, it doesn’t matter.

“I just want to win. Because last year we didn’t win our bowl game and it’s definitely a better feeling winning a bowl game than it is to lose one.”

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