College Football

Miami (Ohio) season comeback could set record vs. Mississippi State in St. Petersburg Bowl

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This story was compiled and written by University of Connecticut journalism students Garrett Spahn and Andrew Mitchell with information and statistics provided by the St. Petersburg Bowl and college athletic department websites.

Miami (Ohio) is currently making a comeback that could potentially make NCAA history. After starting the year 0-6, the Redhawks won 6 consecutive games, leading them to their first bowl appearance in 6 years.

Their opponent, Mississippi State, has been a regular on the bowl game scene with its 20thappearanceset set for the Dec.26 St Petersburg (Fla.) Bowl Dec. 26 at 11 a.m. (ESPN), their sixth straight appearance.

The Bulldogs (5-7, 3-5) will be the first SEC team to appear at Tropicana field for this bowl. Their last trip to Florida was in 2014 when Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott led the team to the Capital One Orange Bowl. The Bulldogs have received criticism for sneaking in to the Bowl Games, after defeating Ole Miss 55-20, strengthening their case for the game.

Mississippi St. sophomore quarterback Nick Fitzgerald had a breakout season with 35 of his team’s 46 touchdowns and 1,361 rushing yards to lead the Bulldogs.

Mississippi State is a young football team that needs to use the next few weeks to build around Fitzgerald. Winning a bowl game won’t replace the lackluster season they had but will be a catalyst for positive growth for their upcoming season.

“This is a great opportunity for one of the winningest senior classes in school history and for our program to build momentum for 2017,” said MSU Head Coach Dan Mullen.

“We’re getting an opportunity to play in a bowl game because of what (we) have all done in the classroom,” Mullen said. “Not just the guys who are here, the guys before over the last couple of years. How we’ve worked, what we’ve been able to do in the classroom for our players. That work has now paid off.”

The Miami Redhawks (6-6, 6-2) are the 3rd MAC school to appear in the St. Petersburg Bowl, after becoming the first team in college football to finish the season 6-6, after losing its first 6.

Their success has been attributed to starting quarterback Gus Ragland, who returned after missing the first 6 games with a torn ACL. He threw 15 touchdowns and no interceptions in that time.

Miami (Ohio) head coach Chuck Martin described playing an SEC team as scary excitement.

Miami had a 21-game losing streak that Martin inherited.

“Part of the challenge was taking something that was at the bottom of the ocean and making it special again,” Martin said. “To me, that was very intriguing.

“The Cubs won the World Series. Donald Trump is the President and we became bowl eligible.”

Martin said the key wasn’t a change in direction. It was getting afloat.

“People say ‘You’ve gotta turn this ship around,’” Martin said. “I’d say, ‘No, this ship is at the bottom of the ocean. We actually have to learn how to get it up here, then we have to turn it around.’”

“We’re excited about going up against a top flight program that has top flight recruits,” Martin said. Martin spent time at Notre Dame recruiting, so he knows the caliber of players in a top football program.

The speed of the game concerns; he said it’s something they can’t replicate in practice because the Bulldogs have explosive athletes at every position on the field. Martin explained it would be a challenge at every position on every play for this game.

“This is a great reward for our players and staff who have put in so much work and effort to build our program back to bowl eligibility,” Martin said, according to the St. Petersburg Bowl website.

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