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Belk Bowl Preview and Prediction: NC State vs. Mississippi State

Dak Prescott

Dak Prescott

NC State and Mississippi State meet on the gridiron for only the sixth time on Wednesday afternoon in the Belk Bowl. Both schools come into the game with winning records, despite losing to in-state rivals in the final week of the regular season.

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Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott will make his final start for the Bulldogs, having amassed over 3,400 passing yards on the season. Prescott will be looking to cement his legacy as arguably the best player to ever grace the field in Starkville. On the other side of the field, NC State gunslinger Jacoby Brissett should have no problem leading his team to the end zone.

The Wolfpack leads the series all-time series 3-2. They edged out the Bulldogs 28-24 in the 1995 Peach Bowl. The other four meetings in the series took place prior to 1964. This one ought to be fun.

NC State vs. Mississippi State (Charlotte, N.C.)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Wednesday)

TV: ESPN

Spread: Mississippi State -6

Three Things to Watch

1. Offensive Playmakers

Both teams possess a number of talented skilled players on offense. We weren’t sure that would be the case for Mississippi State coming into the season, but receivers Fred Ross and De’Runnya Wilson have become virtually unstoppable on the perimeter. Ross is just shy of 1,000 yards receiving on the year, while Wilson has 822. They have been instrumental in the Bulldogs’ offensive attack, especially with a lack of production at running back.

For NC State, it all starts with freshman Nyheim Hines. He finished the year with over 1,200 all-purpose yards, filling multiple roles on offense and in the return game. Hines led the ACC in kickoff return yards, where he was able to showcase his blazing speed. Another player who could make an impact for the Wolfpack is tight end Jaylen Samuels, one of Brissett’s favorite targets. He had nearly 100 yards receiving in the season finale against North Carolina.  

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2. Defensive Preparation

As is the case in any bowl game, there is the burning question of how teams will respond to time off. Neither team has played a football game in a month. That may not seem like a big deal, but when teams get used to the weekly schedule, they get in a rhythm from Monday to Saturday. This is especially true for the Bulldogs, which are used to the grind of the SEC West. Add in the distraction of all that surrounds a bowl bid and it becomes an interesting topic.

The thing I’m most intrigued by is how the defenses prepare. When a defense has a month to get ready for an offense, it can often be successful. Especially in this matchup, where everything is centered around offense and the quarterbacks, it will be interesting to see if either defense steps up. With the defenses keying on Prescott and Brissett, other players may have the opportunity to shine. Everybody thinks this one has the ingredients of a shootout, but don’t forget the 2010 BCS title game between Auburn and Oregon.

3. The Quarterback Battle

Of course, the biggest storyline in this game is the quarterback battle. Prescott will be the center of attention. He has already dominated most of the headlines, and everyone knows the broadcasters will be talking about him all day. It’s fair, really, when you look at his contributions to SEC football. Prescott is clearly one of the best players in the country, regardless of talent around him. His name will be mentioned in the same conversation as Tim Tebow and Cam Newton in years to come. That’s what happens when you pile up 9,000 career passing yards, 2,500 career rushing yards, and over 100 touchdowns. This Mississippi State team probably wouldn’t even be in a bowl game, much less 8-4, without Prescott.

But Prescott won’t be the only senior quarterback with something to prove on Wednesday. Brissett, a former Florida quarterback, has played well down the stretch. Like Prescott, he can beat you with his legs, too. Brissett has thrown for nearly 2,500 yards and 19 touchdowns this season. He threw for 2,600 last year. On the ground, he has rushed for over 800 yards at NC State. The dual-threat abilities of both quarterbacks make this a must-see bowl game.

Final Analysis

This game could be a shootout or it could end up like that weird national championship game a few years ago. If either defense shows up, that team will definitely have an edge. Special teams could also be a potential factor, especially with Hines in the return game.

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But most likely, there will be some points on the board because of superb quarterback play. It should be noted that NC State’s pass defense is better than Mississippi State’s on paper. However, it should also be noted that NC State hasn’t seen Dak Prescott and these games aren’t played on paper. They’re played on the gridiron, a place where Prescott is used to success. He will dissect the Wolfpack defense en route to a convincing, career-ending victory.

Prediction: Mississippi State 38, NC State 21

— Written by Cody McClure, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a radio host and lead SEC Writer for Three Point Stance Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @CodyMcClureCFB.