Mississippi State brings losing mark into bowl battle with No. 24 Tulsa
Tulsa Golden Hurricane at Mississippi State Bulldogs
- This will mark the first-ever matchup between Tulsa and Mississippi State. The Golden Hurricane have lost their last six games vs. SEC opponents, last winning at Florida on October 27, 1979. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, have not played an American opponent since the conference started in 2013.
- The Golden Hurricane fell to Cincinnati, 27-24, in the AAC Championship Game after finishing the regular season 6-0 in conference play. Tulsa has allowed just 4.72 yards per play this season, its fewest in the last 20 seasons and sixth fewest in the FBS this season.
- Corey Taylor II rushed for 130 yards and a touchdown in the conference title game against Cincinnati, his seventh career 100-yard game and second this season (132 yards on November 19 vs. Tulane). Taylor needs just 51 yards to become the 17th player in program history to rush for 2000 career yards.
- Mississippi State will play in a bowl for the 11th straight season despite a 3-7 record, the eighth-longest active bowl streak in the FBS. The Bulldogs have committed 26 turnovers this season, second most in the FBS (Duke, 39), including four in their last regular-season game vs. Missouri.
- Jaden Walley had five catches for 129 yards in MSU's win over Missouri, his fourth straight 100-yard game. Walley is the first FBS true freshman to record four straight 100-yard games since Western Michigan's Jaime Wilson in 2012; the last to do so in five straight was Hawaii's Davone Bess in 2005.
At Mississippi State, bowl appearances are an annual occurrence.
No. 24 Tulsa, meanwhile, is set to end a brief postseason hiatus.
The Bulldogs (3-7) will make a school-record 11th consecutive bowl appearance, while the Golden Hurricane (6-2) will play in their first bowl since 2016 when they meet on New Year's Eve in the Armed Forces Bowl at Fort Worth, Texas.
Tulsa beat Central Michigan 55-10 in the Miami Beach Bowl in 2016. Then the Golden Hurricane went 2-10, 3-9 and 4-8 before having a breakout season this year.
"Throughout this time I've seen a lot of ups and downs," senior running back Corey Taylor II said. "It's been a blessing to see how a championship team is created, and I believe this Tulsa team is definitely a championship team."
Tulsa isn't an official championship team, but it did go 6-0 in American Athletic Conference regular-season play to reach the conference title game against undefeated Cincinnati on Dec. 19. The Bearcats escaped with a 27-24 victory on a field goal as time expired.
"It has been a magical year for this group," Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery said. "Now we get an opportunity to continue to play one more game."
The Golden Hurricane had four games canceled because of COVID-19 issues, including a contest at Houston. Tulsa has 62 Texans on its roster who get a chance to play in their home state after all.
"Generally we're playing at least one game a year down there whether that's an SMU or a Houston," Montgomery said. "For the guys (from Texas), it will be special to play this game in Fort Worth."
Any location would be special for the Bulldogs, who usually have a winning record going into their bowl game.
Mississippi State played the two best games of coach Mike Leach's first season in the first and last games of the season. The Bulldogs opened with a 44-34 road victory against defending national champion LSU, then lost seven of eight before finishing Dec. 19 with a 51-32 home victory against Missouri.
"We have been competitive all year," said Leach, who has led 17 of his 19 teams as a head coach to bowl games. "We practice hard and play hard, we just do it incongruently. We just do it in spurts and kind of segmented."
In between the first and last wins came a victory came against Vanderbilt. None of the Bulldogs' triumphs came against a team that currently sports a winning record.
Mississippi State gained 446 total yards in the finale, including its first 100-yard rushing game of the season (151).
"It's been a gradual process," Leach said. "We're not there yet, but we took a step (against Missouri)."
The season began with KJ Costello, a graduate transfer from Stanford, passing for a Southeastern Conference-record 623 yards against LSU, but gradually Leach transitioned to a youth movement.
Freshman Will Rogers took over the starting position at midseason, and he has passed for 1,828 yards. The Bulldogs' true freshmen have combined for 146 receptions, the most among any team in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
--Field Level Media
Updated December 24, 2020