So Sunday’s assignment to the 2016 St. Petersburg Bowl on the morning after Christmas was a touch anticlimactic. And, none the less welcomed by Coach Dan Mullen and Mississippi State athletics.
“On behalf of everyone at Mississippi State, we are excited to accept a bowl invitation for our school-record seventh straight year,” athletics director John Cohen said in a provided statement.
“St. Petersburg is an excellent destination, and our fans have shown over the years how well they travel to support the Bulldogs. We look forward to the experience of playing a bowl game in the state of Florida for the third time in five seasons.”
The Bulldogs (5-7, 3-5 SEC) will take on Miami, Oh., in this year’s edition of the bowl by the bay. Kickoff at Tropicana Field is 11:00et for ESPN broadcast. It is Mississippi State’s seventh-straight bowl trip, extending the record established in Mullen’s eight-season tenure. It is the first appearance in this particular event.
“We are thrilled to reach a bowl game for a school-record seventh straight year and finish the season in St. Petersburg,” Mullen said in a provided statement. “This is a great opportunity for one of the winningest senior classes in school history and for our program to build momentum for 2017. It also speaks volumes about our student-athletes for their commitment in the classroom to qualify for a bowl based on our successful APR.”
Mississippi State is one of the three sub-.500 teams allowed to extend their seasons this year, the same total as in 2015 when the NCAA allowed for too many bowl slots and not enough qualifying teams. State earned, apparently, the last possible berth for a 5-win team by virtue of the football program’s Academic Progress Rate.
Of course Bulldog football and fans already rate 2016 a success without post-season play. Mullen’s eighth team struggled out of the September gate and were 2-5 in October. State came back with three wins including November victories over Texas A&M and most importantly at Ole Miss to salvage the season.
Now, they extend it.
Mullen becomes the bowling-est coach ever at State in the process, breaking his tie with Jackie Sherrill who had six bowl teams in 13 seasons. Mullen already has the most bowl victories by a Bulldog coach with a 4-2 record including last year’s rout of North Carolina State in the Belk Bowl.
That game was played in monsoon conditions. This one…weather won’t matter. Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays, is a dome. Mississippi State hasn’t played an indoors bowl since 1999, a win over Clemson in the then-Peach Bowl at the Georgia Dome. All-time, Bulldogs teams are 9-8 for indoors games; 0-1 under Mullen with the opening-day loss to Oklahoma State in 2013.
This will be the fourth Mullen team to go bowling in Florida. His first State squad to earn eligibility played in and won the Gator Bowl on New Years Day 2011. The ’12 Dogs went back to Jacksonville and lost.
And of course the biggest bowl berth ever for State was just two years ago when the 2014 team was part of the New Years Six system in the Orange Bowl. Those Dogs did put on an offensive show along with Georgia Tech in a 49-34 shootout.
Miami’s frantic scramble for bowl eligibility is quite the story. The Redhawks (6-6, 6-2) began 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. There are few ties too. Mullen coached against the Redhawks in 2001 as an assistant at Bowling Green, with Miami winning.
Miami’s last bowl trip was the 2010 team to the ’11 GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile where the Redhawks beat Middle Tennessee State. They have only faced one SEC team in any bowl, beating Florida in 1973 in the old Tangerine Bowl played in Gainesville. Miami is 10-17-1 against the current SEC membership with the last matchup a 2013 loss at Kentucky.
Bulldog players are busy with fall final exams this week which end Friday. The NCAA allots 15 practice dates between campus and bowl site. A practice schedule will be published later.
The bowl’s website forwards ticket enquiries to Ticket.com where it lists prices at $80 for lower-level 1; $65 for lower-level 2; with $60 and $40 tickets in the upper levels.
This will be Mississippi State’s 20th bowl appearance since 1937. Bulldogs teams are 11-8 in post-season football and 7-2 since 1999.