Vanderbilt (6-6) vs NC State (6-6)
When: Monday, December 26th 2016
Where: Independence Stadium, Shreveport, LA
Time: 5:00 ET | TV: ESPN2
Two teams that finished strong will meet in this year’s Independence Bowl as the Vanderbilt Commodores take on the North Carolina State Wolfpack on December 26th. Vanderbilt just need to win one of their final two as their strong Academic Progress Rate enabled them to be Bowl eligible at 5-7, but they won both of them to solidify a spot on their own play. Vanderbilt made three straight bowl appearances under former coach James Franklin, including a 38-24 victory over N.C. State in the 2012 Music City Bowl, but is going for the first time since Derek Mason took over the program. Mason was in danger of missing out on a bowl for the third straight season until finishing the season with four wins in six games that included wins over Georgia, Ole Miss and Tennessee. The Commodores put up two of their three highest point totals of the season in the final two games and amassed 608 yards in the 45-34 win over the Volunteers in the regular-season finale. The Commodores averaged 13.2 points in their first six games (1-5) but totaled 83 points in the final two games as junior running back Ralph Webb ran for 237 yards and five touchdowns on 41 carries in those contests. Quarterback Kyle Shurmur threw for a career-high 416 yards in the win over Tennessee and threw four TD passes in the last two games.
The Wolfpack needed a win in their final game against rival North Carolina to sew up a Bowl berth and got the upset victory. The Wolfpack looked as though they would miss out on bowl season during a four-game slide in the middle of the season, but tight losses to ACC powers Clemson and Florida State showed that they are better than their record. The 28-21 upset win at North Carolina in the finale not only made the Wolfpack bowl eligible, but it likely saved coach Dave Dorean’s job. Wolfpack senior running back Matthew Dayes was a second-team All-ACC selection after running for 1,119 yards and saved his best for last with six touchdowns in the final three games of the regular season. Dayes was fortunate to be running behind an All-ACC second-teamer in guard Tony Adams. Tight end Jaylen Samuels made it as a third-team selection after leading N.C. State with 49 receptions. The defense is led by DE Bradley Chubb, who led the nation with 21 tackles for loss for a team that ranked fifth in the nation against the run (105.4) and 28th overall.
Vanderbilt really played well down the stretch and comes into this game with a lot of momentum. N.C. State has been inconsistent all season, playing up to the powers and down to lesser competition. Vanderbilt is probably more excited to be here and that matters a lot when it comes to picking Bowl games. I’ll take the more motivated team and the points in this one.
Pick: Vanderbilt +4.5