The Belk Bowl will be a battle of the quarterbacks
From a high level, the word “unspectacular” seems to be the best adjective to describe the 2015 seasons produced by the participants of this year’s Belk Bowl. Both North Carolina State and Mississippi State were unable to produce any spectacular victories or spectacular defeats. For the most part, both programs beat the teams they were supposed to beat and lost to the teams they were supposed to lose to. It only seems fitting that they will meet — but what seems to be unspectacular on the surface may prove to be the opposite when you dig in to the details.
This game will feature two very capable, dual-threat senior quarterbacks. Both Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott (+22.5) and North Carolina State’s Jacoby Brissett (+14.6) played in every game and led offenses that averaged 33 points per game. They combined for 44 passing touchdowns to only eight interceptions. In addition, they both posted positive grades as passers and a runners. They are athletic, smart and efficient and will be playing in their last college game. There is no doubt that the quarterbacks will be prepared and motivated. This game will most likely be decided on defense.
By the numbers, North Carolina State has the edge on defense. They’ve held opponents to 56 yards per game less than and grade out +88 points higher than Mississippi State. They have three stud defensive linemen in B.J. Hill (+27.9), Mike Rose (+26.7), and Bradley Chubb (+23.6) and have quality players at the other two levels. In addition, the Wolfpack has faced two dual threat quarterbacks similar to Prescott in UNC’s Marquise Williams and Clemson’s Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson in their last six games, so spying a quarterback won’t be anything new.
Although Mississippi State has inferior defensive numbers, they have faced superior opposition. The combined overall grade of the Bulldogs’ opponents is +782. The Wolfpack’s opponents? -258. The problem for Mississippi State is their four losses account for +761 of that opponent grade (LSU, Texas A&M, Alabama and Ole Miss). Even still, the average grade of the opponents beaten by the Bulldogs was +2.56. While that might not be impressive, the highest grade for an opponent beaten by the Wolfpack was -62 (Eastern Kentucky). NC State may have the better numbers, but Mississippi State has better wins.
Players to watch
Besides a few exceptions, football teams will go only as far as their quarterbacks will take them. The aforementioned Prescott and Brissett are both capable of overcoming their team’s weaknesses and leading them to victory. Prescott is widely regarded as Mississippi State’s best player ever.
Reggie Gallaspy (RB, NC State)
The freshman running back has filled in admirably after the Wolfpack lost their top two running backs earlier this season (Shadrach Thornton and Matt Dayes). He’s averaging 4.8 yards per carry and posted a grade of +4.6 over his last two games against Syracuse and North Carolina.
Chris Jones (DT, Mississippi State)
Jones is the best defensive player on either team. He plays the run well and has elite pass rushing skills for an interior defensive lineman. He is CFF’s fifth highest graded defensive tackle (+45.1) ranks third in the country among defensive tackles in pressure percentage at 10.7.
This is an intriguing match-up that should produce high-quality offense. With both quarterbacks playing in their last college game, the motivation for both teams will be high. In the end, Prescott will make a few more plays than Brissett that put the Bulldogs over the top.
Mississippi State 45-North Carolina State 42