Two teams are coming into this game in Nashville from completely different directions. At the outset of the season, Mississippi State wasn’t thinking about having to win the Egg Bowl at the end of the season to be bowl eligible, but that’s exactly what happened. Wake Forest, on the other hand, was thought to be no better than a three or four win team, yet it made it back to a bowl game for the first time since the 2008 season. However, the Demon Deacons are coming into this game having lost five of their seven games, so momentum is definitely not on their side.
Mississippi State has struggled offensively all season long, but the run game can control the game for stretches at a time behind the running of RB Vick Ballard. You can’t tell me that Ballard isn’t licking his chops to duplicate his bowl performance from last year. Check the numbers of the running backs Wake has faced in the second half of the season – Gio Bernard (UNC) – 154 yards, Jonas Gray/Cierre Wood (ND) – 179 yards, Andre Ellington (Clemson) – 98 yards and Zac Stacy (Vanderbilt) – 184 yards. If Ballard rolls early, Wake is serious trouble. Guess which way I’m leaning.
Wake Forest WR Chris Givens – Givens is perhaps one of the most underrated receivers in the entire country. This cat is a straight baller – he had 74 catches on the season, not one game less than four catches and no game more than eight. But, talk about consistency. He had four games with seven, five with six, one with eight and two with four. The Mississippi State secondary has a ton of experience and seen some of the SEC’s best pass catchers; Givens will be given their full attention. He can be a threat all over the field – he can catch and run, he can work the middle of the field and can also be a deep threat vertically down the field. He does need for QB Tanner Price to keep his composure against MSU’s defensive pressure but Price knows Givens will make plays if he can just get him the football.
Mississippi State – 24 vs. Wake Forest – 16
Although Iowa’s making a return trip to the great Southwest, trust me when I say this is a much different Iowa team than the one that upset Missouri in last year’s game. Sure, the black and yellow will “look” the same, but the true “look” is much different. In last year’s game, RB Marcus Coker ran all over Missouri in a coming out party for the punishing Hawkeye ball carrier. Guess who found a way to get suspended and won’t play on Friday night? Yep, the Hawkeyes’ leading ball carrier Coker. So, the Hawkeyes run game is in rough shape without the nearly 1,400 yard rusher. Defensively, the Hawkeyes have been trying to deal with the graduation/NFL losses of so many off of the 2010 squad. Clayborn, Sash and Klug were massive keys for last year’s team and the defense has struggled at times without them in 2011.
Unfortunately, this Sooners offense isn’t the team you’d like to face when your defense is just a bit above average. However, the Sooners haven’t had the best run of luck this season, either. All-World WR Ryan Broylestore his ACL late in the season after leading rusher Dominique Whaley broke his leg against Kansas State. Throw in the suspension of explosive edge rusher Ronnell Lewis and it’s clear that these two teams are shells of what they’ve been in the past. Regardless, the Sooners offense still has plenty of firepower, but the key in this one is its offensive discipline. Iowa will NOT let the Sooners beat them deep and will force QB Landry Jones and company to maintain 8 to 10 play drives to score the ball.
Now, the Sooners will force the tempo to see if it can create mental errors for a weary Iowa defense, but Iowa’s defense won’t kill itself with stupid errors, if nothing else. That all said, Jones will complete the year with a solid 350+ yard performance to lead the way to another Sooner bowl victory over a gritty Iowa squad.
Iowa LT Riley Reiff– many, including yours truly, think very highly of the Hawkeyes left tackle at the next level. Excellent feet, nasty attitude and solid technique are the hallmarks of arguably the highest rated tackle in the 2012 NFL Draft class. Now, USC’s Matt Kalil will have something to say about it, but there’s little question that Reiff is next-level ready. It would’ve been a bit more exciting to see Reiff take on Oklahoma DE/OLB Ronnell Lewis, but the Sooner couldn’t hold up his end of the “not getting kicked off the team after the regular season” bargain. Either way, keep your eye on Reiff’s combination run/pass protection skills in this matchup.
Oklahoma – 34 vs. Iowa – 19