JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The attitude for this Mississippi State squad is one game does not make a season but it could complete it.
Mississippi State (8-4) is hoping its first the program’s first appearance in a New Year’s Day bowl since the 1999 Cotton will translate into a memorable finish to the 2010 campaign.
"It's important that I go out a winner like I came here as, which was a winner," senior defensive end Pernell McPhee said. "I want to leave my teammates with a smile on their face. It's my last game of college football and a lot of my friends and family get to watch. So I'm going to try out and have fun for them."
State’s first bowl game since 2007 will be a 2011 Gator Bowl matchup (12:30 p.m., ESPN2) today with Michigan (7-5), college football’s all-time leader in wins, at the home field of the National Football League’s Jacksonville Jaguars.
“The opportunity to go to such a great game that I’ve watched my whole life on New Year’s Day is what makes the bowl system so great,” Mullen said. “To get a premier matchup is a special, special bowl.”
While MSU athletic director Scott Stricklin has already stated the experience of the program’s first bowl game in Florida since the 1941 Southeastern Conference Championship team traveled to the Orange Bowl has been memorable even before kickoff.
“I would look at other schools outside the state as a kid and it seems like they were in New Year’s Day bowl games every year,” Stricklin said. “We talked about creating great experiences and that’s our job. Obviously, for our fans and alumni winning would be the best experience of them all.”
Mississippi State’s Gator Bowl berth is the first for a Southeastern Conference member since 1994, and will mark the first time in MSU history the Bulldogs will play a Big Ten foe in a postseason game.
State has only played three Big Ten opponents in school history, with the last contest coming against Illinois in 1980.
“This is a great reward for our players and coaches that worked so hard all year,” Mullen said. “We earned this trip with the way we fought throughout the season and we’re grateful to the Gator Bowl Association and the City of Jacksonville for this opportunity to play in a historic New Year’s Day Bowl.”
Both teams may run version’s of the spread offense but the philosophical differences of the two systems couldn’t be more contrasting.
While finding humor in the notion of MSU is more of the 3 yards and a cloud of dust stereotype, Mullen did agree that his offensive rushing attack compares to what Michigan has looked to do in the past.
“Yeah, they’re a high-powered, explosive spread-the-field offense and we kinda like to grind out up front on both sides of the ball,” Mullen said. “Maybe it’s just a sign of the times right now. It should make for a fun matchup.”
Michigan will look to feature the high-powered explosiveness of quarterback Denard Robinson.
Robinson ran for 136.9 yards per game and 14 touchdowns for the Wolverines, who averaged 34.3 points per game. He topped 100 yards rushing in nine of 12 games and topped the 200-yard mark twice.
“I mean he’s the first quarterback to throw for 1,500 yards and run for 1,500 yards so I guess his stats speak for itself,” MSU sophomore defensive back Corey Broomfield said.
In another bout of irony, the coaching situations couldn’t be any more different leading up to kickoff as well.
According to reports from the Detroit Free Press, Rodriguez’s fate of holding on to his job as the leader of the Wolverines football program lies completely in the hands of athletic director Dave Brandon.
Brandon, who was previously chairman of the board, chief executive officer, and manager of Domino’s Pizza, has said publicly his timetable for evaluating Rodriguez remains after the final game — the Jan. 1 Gator Bowl — and will not make any decisions before that contest is played despite the negative effect it could have on future recruiting for the football program.
During an end-of-the-season football banquet, that was described by many news outlets as awkward and strange, Rodriguez cried, quoted the Bible along with Josh Groban, and then played a song from the musician.
“My name is Rich Rodriguez. I’m honored to be the head coach at the University of Michigan,” the Wolverines third-year head coach said. “I hope you realize I truly want to be a Michigan man.”
Mullen on the other hand has his future already secured in a four-year agreement that will pay him $10.6 million dollars over that period.
“I know we’re very happy, my wife and I, to be staying here hopefully for a long time to come,” Mullen said. “Really excited with the direction of the program is going. Everybody is on the same page and we see a great future at Mississippi State.”