Mississippi State Bulldogs (6-6 SU, 6-6 ATS) vs. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (6-6 SU, 7-5 ATS), Friday December 30th, 2011. 6:30PM EST, Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, LP Field Nashville, T.N.
By Jay Horne, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: Miss. St. -6.5/WF +6.5
Over/Under Total: 48
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A pair of 6-6 teams will invade the Music City on Friday December 30th when the Mississippi State Bulldogs battle the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. In what has become an annual SEC vs. ACC match-up, the Music City Bowl has consistently produced intriguing match-ups between middle of the road teams from both respected conferences. In the last two years, the ACC representative has taken home a victory in the Music City Bowl. However this year, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons will be rather sizeable 6.5 underdogs to keep that trend going.
Mississippi State was expected to make some noise in the SEC West this year, but the Bulldogs fell short of expectations. Of course you could make the argument that the Bulldogs were just a victim of a brutal schedule. In fact in 5 of 6 losses, the Bulldogs fell to a top 25 conference foe. Therefore it will be interesting to see how well the Bulldogs match-up with a team outside of the SEC when they battle the Demon Deacons who had a respectable 5-3 mark in the ACC this year.
The Bulldogs main problems this season have fell on the offensive side of the football where they managed to put together just 355 total yards (87th in NCAA) per game. Coach Dan Mullen has had to juggle starting quarterbacks for the 2nd year in a row and honestly Bulldogs fans have to be getting tired of the problems behind center. QB Chris Relf gives the offense the most potential as he is viable dual threat. Relf has rushed for 311 yards this season and he is an extremely tough guy to bring down.
However, Relf has struggled throwing the football completing 58% passing for 1,083 yards with 9 scores and 7 picks on the year. Backup Tyler Russell has seen a good amount of playing time this year as well. Russell is the better pure passer but it not best suited for the type of spread option that Coach Mullen would like to run. Russell has not lit up the stat sheet by any means completing just 53.5% with 8 scores and 4 picks. The one thing Russell has done well is protected the football and he will get some playing time against the Demon Deacons if Relf has an erratic start.
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Possibly the biggest threat to the Demon Deacons defense will be Bulldogs running back Vick Ballard. Ballard has racked up 1,009 yards while averaging 5.6 yards per carry on the year. Ballard is a guy that can really carry the workload for this Mississippi State offense and he should be a primary weapon against a Wake Forest defense that has been shredded for 162 yards per game this season on the ground.
For Wake Forest, the Demon Deacons have had their share of troubles moving the football as well this season. Wake Forest has averaged just 374 total yards (76th in NCAA) per game this season. Even worse, the rushing offense has averaged just 118 yards (96th in NCAA) per game on the ground. Running back Brandon Pendergrass has rushed for 750 yards this year and is a very talented rusher. Still, the Wake Forest offensive line has struggled to open holes to allow room to run.
The Wake Forest offensive line has been a concern all season not just in the running game but in pass protection as well. The Demon Deacons have given up 2.82 sacks (89th in NCAA) per game this season and that is critical to an offense that relies on their passing attack. QB Tanner Price and WR Chris Givens make a lethal 1-2 connection in the passing offense. Price has completed 60.9% passing for 2,803 yards with 20 scores and 6 picks on the year. Givens led the ACC this year with 1,276 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns. Sophomore wide out Michael Campanaro is another emerging threat in the receiving core that has tallied an additional 705 yards this season. Collectively, Wake Forest has the weapons to be a very effective passing force if the offensive line can supply pass protection.
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: The Demon Deacons were blown out by Vanderbilt in the season finale 41-7 in a game where Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy ran wild for 186 yards. That is a big indicator of what is to come against Vick Ballard and this talented Mississippi State rushing offense. Wake Forest did not play many strong rushing teams this year and their numbers against the run are flat terrible still. Expect the Bulldogs to move the ball with ease and cruise to a cover. Take Mississippi State -6.5.
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