There are multiple layers to N.C. State’s motivation against Vanderbilt in the Independence Bowl on Monday in Shreveport, La.
There’s the chance to finish the season with a winning record for the third straight year and, with so many of the same players expected back next year, get a head start on the 2017 season.
There’s also the matter of facing an SEC opponent. The Wolfpack (6-6) has lost its past five games to the country’s top conference going back to 1999, including a bowl loss to the Commodores (6-6) in 2012.
And even though this hasn’t been the SEC’s finest season, arguably either the Big Ten or ACC were better this year, there is something to the SEC thing, N.C. State junior safety Josh Jones says.
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“Going back to last year, we got beat pretty bad by an SEC team,” Jones said. “So this is an opportunity to rebound against an SEC team.”
Last year, Mississippi State battered the Wolfpack, 51-28, in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte. Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott threw for 380 yards and four touchdowns. Prescott has gone on to lead the Dallas Cowboys to the top seed in the NFC playoffs.
Jones said the Wolfpack did learn from the bowl experience.
Going back to last year, we got beat pretty bad by an SEC team,” Jones said. “So this is an opportunity to rebound against an SEC team.
N.C. State’s Josh Jones
“You have a couple of days of fun,” Jones said. “You take it serious, though. You can’t go down there and slap around. The team that does that, is the team that’s going to lose. We’re not going to do that.”
To Jones’ point, N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said: “There’s a difference between wanting to play in a bowl game and wanting to win a bowl game.”
N.C. State still remembers the rain-soaked loss in Charlotte and the empty feeling after finishing the season with a loss.
“We’re playing an SEC opponent again,” junior tight end/fullback Jaylen Samuels said. “We want to have a different outcome.”
Vanderbilt doesn’t enter this game with Mississippi State’s bona fides from a year ago but the Commodores have closed the season with a flourish.
Since a 20-13 road loss to Kentucky on Oct. 8, Vanderbilt has won four of six, including a road win at Georgia and home wins over Ole Miss and Tennessee in the last two weeks of the regular season to qualify for the bowl.
“Obviously, when you a play team from that league that has beaten Georgia, Tennessee and Ole Miss, it’s a great opponent for us,” Doeren said.
It’s also another chance for the Wolfpack to pick up another win over a Power 5 opponent. In Doeren’s four seasons, N.C. State has only faced two Power 5 opponents outside of league play. It lost to Mississippi State in last year’s bowl game and beat Notre Dame (10-3 on Oct. 8) this season.
Including ACC games, 10 of Doeren’s 24 wins are over Power 5 opponents and six have come against bowl teams. N.C. State was close to adding numbers to both lists this season with an overtime loss at Clemson on Oct. 15 and a four-point home loss to Florida State on Nov. 5.
Obviously, when you a play team from that league that has beaten Georgia, Tennessee and Ole Miss, it’s a great opponent for us.
Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren
Doeren has called it a season of close calls and “almosts.” A win over the Commodores wouldn’t make up for those games but it would put the Wolfpack on the right side of .500 for the third straight season.
It would also end a five-game losing streak to the SEC. N.C. State’s 10-0 home win over South Carolina, in the second game of the 1999 season, is the last time the Wolfpack beat an SEC team.
Not that there have been many games with the SEC since then. Chuck Amato didn’t play an SEC team in his seven seasons to start the 2000s. Tom O’Brien lost a home-and-home with South Carolina in 2008, notably Russell Wilson’s first college game, and ’09.
O’Brien’s last team in 2012 opened with a loss to Tennessee in Atlanta and closed the year with the Music City Bowl loss to Vanderbilt. Doeren’s only SEC game was the loss to Mississippi State.
One thing Doeren has tried to rally his team around is it opens with an SEC team, South Carolina, in Charlotte next season. N.C. State could have as many as 17 of its 22 starters from offense and defense back next season. So this is a chance to turn a losing streak into a winning streak.
“This sets up for us to end this year and open next year the right way,” Samuels said.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
N.C. State vs. Vanderbilt
When: 5 p.m. Monday
Where: Independence Stadium, Shreveport, La.
TV/radio: ESPN2, 101.5-WRAL
N.C. State has lost its past five games to SEC opponents:
Dec. 30, 2015
x-vs. Mississippi State
Dec. 31, 2012
Aug. 31, 2012
Sept. 3, 2009
Aug. 28, 2008
at South Carolina
Notes: x-Belk Bowl, Charlotte; y-Music City Bowl, Nashville, Tenn.; z-Chick-fil-A Kickoff, Atlanta