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December 31, 2012
NC State looking to judge full season progress
While coach Dave Doeren won't have much impact on this game, North Carolina State's future appears to be plenty bright after luring him away from Orange Bowl-bound Northern Illinois.
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, meanwhile, isn't going anywhere despite seeing his stock rise for leading the Commodores to back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history.
Interim coach Dana Bible and the Wolfpack look for a third consecutive postseason victory today in the Music City Bowl against Vanderbilt, which tries to extend its winning streak to seven for the first time in 64 seasons.
North Carolina State (7-5) failed to meet expectations after entering 2012 with ACC title hopes, instead finishing 4-4 in conference play. Though the Wolfpack assured themselves of a third consecutive winning record after beating Boston College 27-10 on Nov. 24, coach Tom O'Brien was fired after six seasons at the helm.
He's been replaced by Doeren, who became a hot commodity for leading the Huskies to a second straight Mid-American Conference championship and a BCS bowl berth. With Doeren busy recruiting, the 59-year-old Bible, the Wolfpack's offensive coordinator, is looking forward to calling the shots.
"I've always wanted to be a head coach, and this is the first opportunity I've had to do that," he said. "I'm going to do the very best I can to put this team in a position to be successful.
"This is our last chance together and it's important for us to finish strong — that's always been one of the goals that we've had. There's nothing better than being successful in a bowl game."
Success could be hard to come by against a Vanderbilt team that's proven unbeatable since opening 2-4. The Commodores (8-4), who've outscored opponents by an average of 24.0 points during a six-game run, haven't taken seven consecutive games since closing their 1948 campaign with eight wins in a row. A victory in the bowl would be their ninth, matching the single-season record set most recently in 1915.
"I think we're headed in (the right) direction and we're getting better everyday," said Franklin, who led the Commodores to their first regular-season winning record in 30 years. "We've done some nice things this year but we still got a long way to go in an unbelievably competitive conference. We just want to finish this thing out the right way."
Vanderbilt is also committed to Franklin, whose name had been linked to coaching vacancies at other programs, as it rewarded its second-year coach with a new long-term contract in early December. Vanderbilt fell 31-24 to Cincinnati in last season's Liberty Bowl, and had appeared in just four bowl games prior to Franklin's arrival.
"We just love the opportunity to play in the postseason," said senior Jordan Rodgers, who threw two touchdown passes in each of the last five games.
"That's something we don't take for granted around here at Vanderbilt. It's something we're going to be doing a lot more in the future. But this is a great opportunity to play a different conference, to play on New Year's Eve."
Rodgers will surely continue looking for Jordan Matthews early and often. The 6-foot-3 wideout has scored in four straight games and ranks second in the SEC with 87 receptions and 1,262 yards — a single-season school record.
Vanderbilt should feel right at home with this game being played just a few miles from campus.
"The seniors who were here for the last Music City Bowl, we're excited," said senior linebacker Archibald Barnes, who was on the Vanderbilt team that defeated Boston College 16-14 in the 2008 Music City Bowl. "We get to end where we started. It's kind of like a legacy, like we did the older guys proud by being able to get back to the Music City Bowl. We're honored to play in Nashville. We love it here."
Barnes and the Commodores have made things difficult on opposing quarterbacks, allowing just six passing TDs and an average of 175.8 passing yards to rank in the top 10 nationally in each category. Slowing down NC State's Mike Glennon, though, surely won't be easy.
The senior standout is projected to be one of the first signal callers taken in next year's NFL draft after leading the ACC with 3,648 passing yards and finishing second with 30 TDs.
"The team is very excited about this opportunity to play one more game," he told the team's official website. "We are planning to work hard and have fun and end our season on a positive note against a quality opponent."
The Wolfpack are seeking their sixth bowl win in seven tries dating to 2002. N.C. State beat West Virginia 23-7 in the 2010 Champs Sports Bowl and Louisville 31-24 in last season's Belk Bowl.
"Coming out with eight wins would be huge for us as a team, even for coach O'Brien — we wanna win this one for him, too," safety Earl Wolff said. "As a senior, I wanna go out with a win and I know those other guys want to have something to build off of ...and go into next season with some momentum."
Vanderbilt beat NC State 7-0 in 1946 in the only previous matchup between these programs.
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