The pressure to find a way into a bowl game is something that the Mississippi State players have dealt with all season. An upset loss at home to South Alabama left the Bulldogs reeling. Narrow losses at BYU and Kentucky, left Coach Dan Mullen and his team with their backs against the wall.
In the end, some good grades and a five touchdown blowout of the arch-rival Rebels, thrust Mississippi State into the bowl picture as essentially the last team selected to the 80 team post season field.
"It felt so good to win that game," Ashton Shumpert said, "I haven't felt like that in a long time. It was an exciting win of us. I am happy to have the Golden Egg back."
With no margin for error down the stretch, the Bulldogs had to work through the stress associated with the possibility of snapping their school record bowl streak at six. With a formal invitation to the St. Petersburg Bowl offered and accepted, the Bulldogs can now afford to take a deep breath and simply focus on the game.
While the post season trip is something Shumpert is looking forward to, the Fulton, Mississippi native reports that the Bulldogs have always felt like that had something to prove.
"We have had our backs to the wall since the day I got here in 2013," Shumpert said. "We're used to all of that, so we know what to expect. We just need to relax and go out there and play ball."
Shumpert and his seniors have done their best to set a new standard in Starkville. Even in a rebuilding year where the Bulldogs had to find a new quarterback and break in a full allotment of defensive coaches, State found a way into another bowl game.
Being able to continue the streak of post season selections is something that Shumpert and his fellow seniors place great value on.
"It means a lot to be able to go to another bowl game," Shumpert shared. "Around the middle of the season, we were wondering if we would make it. If we didn't make it, then that would have been an end to the streak. We just wanted to keep it going and we did."
Bowl games are not guaranteed nor are the valuable practice sessions that go along with them. Shumpert reports that having the team back on the practice field in recent days has been a lot of fun.
"It always feels good to be back out there at practice," Shumpert said. "Some of us are really going to miss this, so I am doing all I can to enjoy it, while I am still here."
Shumpert has had the chance to reconnect with a former Bulldog who has come out to the practice fields as the team prepares for the Red Hawks of Miami of Ohio.
"Josh Robinson has been back out there with us," Shumpert shared. "It feels like old times. He's out there laughing and talking with us. It feels good to have him out there."
Robinson is not the only departed Bulldog who has been in touch with the current team. Several players who have gone on to the NFL or other things in life have done their best to be an encouragement.
"It means a lot to us to hear from them," Shumpert said. "They aren't involved with the bowl game, but they have been with us all year. Nick Griffin texts me almost every week to tell me to keep my head up. He tells me to keep pushing forward.
"All of that means a lot and at the same time it shows me that I am going to have to be here for these guys after I am gone."
With his college degree in hand, Shumpert plans to give pro football a shot before he begins the job search in earnest.
"I am not sure what I am going to with my degree yet," Shumpert said. "As far as football goes, I am going to go train and try to get ready for the combine and pro day. I am just trying to excel in whatever I do when I leave here."
Before Shumpert has to begin making plans to make is way in the world, there is still the matter of one more game in the Maroon and White. For a player who has grown accustomed to playing in bowl games and chasing national rankings, the senior standout wants to end his playing career on a high note.
"Winning this game is everything," Shumpert said. "I believe we're going to get it and we're working hard to get it. Going out with a win would mean everything."
Mississippi State and Miami of Ohio will tee it up at 10 AM Central December 26th at Tropicana Field House in St. Petersburg, Florida. The Bulldogs are a considerable favorite in the ball game.