The Tampa Bay area of Florida, specifically…if unofficially. ESPN was reporting at 10:00ct that Mississippi State will play in the St. Petersburg Bowl, on December 26. The opponent will be Miami OH in a SEC vs. MAC matchup.
Mississippi State athletic or University officials have not confirmed any invitation; nor has the bowl made an announcement.
Coach Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs (5-7) do expect a bowl berth despite finishing under break-even for the regular season. The football program’s most recent Academic Progress Rate score of 971 gave State a fighting chance of qualifying under the NCAA’s two-year-old exemption that allows all bowl games using FBS programs to fill all slots.
The Bulldogs still had to win their own regular season finale, and did so with a thorough thrashing of rival Ole Miss in the Battle for the Golden Egg. Then, enough teams with even-higher APRs and five wins as well lost their own games last weekend and opened the door for Mississippi State to claim the last available slot.
If circumstances are unique, the opportunity is welcomed by Mullen and team. While the Bulldogs were celebrating in their Oxford locker room, the coach was hopeful they would get one more game to play.
“As always you’re going to get a team that plays really hard. You’re going to get a fan base that is passionate about their team and is going to show up and support us,” Mullen said.
State’s coaching staff is just as passionate about the extra practice time any bowl offers. With an underclassman-led offense and a lot of defensive depth returning Mullen welcomes every chance to work the ’17 squad before the calendar turns.
This will also extend Mississippi State’s ongoing record streak of bowl seasons, to seven now. This will give Mullen the most Bulldog bowl teams ever, breaking his six-team tie with Jackie Sherrill. Mullen already has the most bowl victories with a 4-2 record in post-season play.
However…before fans begin making travel plans and reservations for central Florida, there remains one potential twist.
All week rumors swirled that State’s bowling address would be either Las Vegas or Forth Worth. By the end of the week St. Petersburg had moved to the forefront, with only the Heart of Dallas Bowl as an option. Not because this bowl can’t fill slots, but because the most likely participants were local North Texas State and Army.
Who just happened to play in the regular season with North Texas winning on October 22. A rematch is obviously not attractive. Nor does UNT have a guaranteed ‘draw’ since there average home crowd this season was just under 20,000. Army is 6-5 and bowl-eligible already but facing Navy next Saturday in their annual inter-service classic. One way out would be swapping Navy, which up to Saturday was in contention for a New Years Six berth, with Army for the benefit of both Dallas and Forth Worth. For what it is worth one might say.
What Mississippi State does know now for certain is, the Bulldogs are bowling. They only need to fill-in the where, when, and who.
The Redhawks are 6-6 which is a story in itself. They began the season with six losses including two in league play. Miami broke that skid and won-out the schedule and finish second to Ohio in their division. State and Miami have never met in football.
But after his 2001-02 seasons at Bowling Green, the Bulldogs head coach knows something about this MAC program.
Tickets in the lower levels run from $134 to $98 per Vividseats; with upper level tickets at $70. The football field at Tropicana Field is aligned with the first-base side of the Tampa Bay Rays’ playing field.