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