Vanderbilt needed to win one of its final two games to become bowl eligible and got both, earning themselves a date with North Carolina State at the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., on Dec. 26. The Wolfpack needed an unlikely finish as well and ended up knocking off rival North Carolina in the regular-season finale to earn its third straight bowl appearance. The Commodores are returning to postseason play after a two-year bowl absence.
Vanderbilt made three straight bowl appearances under former coach James Franklin, including a 38-24 triumph 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 engineering a 4-2 finish 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 contests and piled up 608 yards in the 45-34 win over the Volunteers in the regular-season finale.
The Wolfpack looked as though they would miss out on bowl season during a four-game slide in the middle of conference play, but tight losses to ACC powers Clemson and Florida State showed glimpses of what N.C. State could become. 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. “We remain committed to becoming a Top 25 program and Dave shares that vision,” N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow said in a statement after the win over the Tar Heels.
TV: 5 p.m. ET, ESPN 2.
LINE HISTORY: North Carolina State opened this game favored by a field goal, but they have since been bet up to -5.5. The total hit the board at 44 and has been bet up a single point to sit at the current number of 45. View the complete line history here.
WEATHER REPORT: It could get messy at the Independence Bowl with an 86 percent chance of rain around kickoff and a chance of thunderstorms in the area. Temperatures will be in the high 60’s for the game.
North Carolina State – QB Ryan Finley (probable, head), DE James Smith-Williams (questionable, undisclosed), TE Cole Cook (questionable, undisclosed)
Vanderbilt – G Delando Crooks (questionable, undisclosed), LB Nigel Bowden (questionable, undisclosed)
ABOUT VANDERBILT (6-6 SU, 8-4 ATS, 4-7-1 OU): The Commodores averaged 13.2 points in going 1-5 in the first six SEC games but totaled 83 points in the final two games as junior running back Ralph Webb piled up 237 yards and five touchdowns on 41 carries. 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 – marking the only two times this season that he threw for multiple TDs in a game. Vanderbilt already had a bowl berth sewn up thanks to its strong Academic Progress Rate before the finale but wanted to make a statement that it belonged in the postseason with a win.
ABOUT N.C. STATE (6-6 SU, 7-5 ATS, 5-6-1 OU): 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 a fellow All-ACC second-teamer in guard Tony Adams, and tight end Jaylen Samuels made it as a third-team selection after leading N.C. State with 49 receptions. The defense is led by defensive end Bradley Chubb, who led the nation with 21 tackles for loss.
* Wolfpack are 10-2 ATS in their last 12 non-conference games.
* Commodores are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 games after scoring more than 40 points in their previous game.
* Under is 5-0 in Wolfpack last 5 games overall.
* Under is 9-2-2 in Commodores last 13 games following a ATS win.
COVERS CONSENSUS: The public fairly split in this matchup, with 52 percent of bettors backing North Carolina State. As for the total, 58 percent of wagers on the Over. Check out full consensus date here.