Fans gather for the Dawg Walk before the start of the 2011 Gator Bowl where Mississippi State defeated Michigan 52-14. Photo by: Mississippi State athletics
December 31, 2012 3:10:23 PM
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - As Mississippi State University was putting the final touches on its dominating 52-14 victory over the University of Michigan early two years ago, Gator Bowl president Rick Catlett couldn't have been more happy to have the Bulldogs in their game.
The feeling is mutual again two years later as the MSU football program and the Gator Bowl game have joined again to produce another raucous atmosphere for the 2013 edition on New Year's Day.
For the maroon-clad fans that were in EverBank Field nearly two years ago and overwhelmed the Michigan faithful in numbers by at least 2-to-1, the Gator Bowl officials were definitely noticing the atmosphere brought from the state of Mississippi and their trusty artificial noisemaker - the cowbell.
"When the MSU fans went from (pointed to one end zone) and (pointed the other end zone)," Gator Bowl representative Rick Catlett said. "I don't think they have a bad rap anymore."
Following the 52-14 victory over the University of Michigan in the 2011 Gator Bowl, MSU head coach Mullen referenced how this is the start of a process for the program to continue on its path to bringing
trophies back in Starkville.
Mississippi State's numbers were the figures that fans had been waiting patiently for since Mullen arrived on campus after leading the
Gators offense to two national championships. 52 points and a 38-point win were both school records in a bowl game.
"The joy of winning is so unbelievable because our people believe so much," Mullen said. "We talked about it with our team. We went from average to good and now we want to go from good to great. Hopefully this catapults us toward that step just like the last win did in the previous season did."
Sunday morning the Twitter atmosphere became constant with fans of from the Magnolia state eagerly posting their estimated time of arrival in Jacksonville once again.
As MSU makes its second trip to the Gator Bowl in three seasons, fans have apparently come south in droves to the city by the St. John's River for the festivities accompany the New Year's Day bowl game. The 'been there, done that' attitude has not reached the MSU fan base and after another eight-win regular season, the opposite has been seen of more than a 'we're back and happy to be here' mentality.
"Bulldog fans have shown how enthusiastic and supportive they are of our team with record ticket sales each of the last two years, and I know they will take over Jacksonville for New Year's Eve and EverBank Field on New Year's Day," MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin said.
MSU senior wide receiver Chad Bumphis sent out a Twitter message around noon on Sunday and immediately got over 100 responses within 30 minutes of the Bulldogs senior receiver sending out a message with the simple words of 'Who's coming to Jacksonville?'
Before the beginning of the regular season finale in Oxford against the University of Mississippi, MSU director of ticket sales Mike Richey told The Dispatch that fans had already pre-ordered 1,200 tickets to the 2013 Gator Bowl as one of the three possible options before the school officially accepted the invitation to EverBank Field against Northwestern University (11 a.m., ESPN2).
"I know our team couldn't be more excited to come back to Jacksonville as they had great experience last time and the time our players had was very special," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. "It is such a great reward for this senior class that I first recruited and bought into what we're trying to build."
Despite a perceived frantic 48-hour period that saw major news organization like CBS Sports and Sports Illustrated change their bowl projections to have MSU (8-4) in the Music City Bowl, Stricklin sources inside the bowl committees were telling him to ignore such prognostication.
"One of the things that any bowl game looks at and specifically are game looks at is creating economic impact for our city," Gator Bowl chairman Stephen Tremel said in 2010. "What that really boils down to is the fans of that particular team will travel."
With New Year's Eve and Jan. 1 being the focal point of the attraction, it is MSU students that are more typically finding their way to Jacksonville over the last couple of days since all the critical elements have lined up for them.
"We've had great turnouts for the previous two bowl games and I think in general students are excited to be a part of an era of three straight bowl games at Mississippi State University," former MSU Student Association president Rhett Hobart said. "I think the distance will play a factor for some making that decision but you have to
remember that just like the team itself, there's freshman and sophomores that weren't around last time in Jacksonville."
As a former student executive at MSU, Hobart was instrumental in organizing the student presence at the Bulldogs victory over an overmatched Michigan team nearly two years ago. However, with the 2011 Gator Bowl being the school's first New Year's Day bowl appearance in the state of Florida, Hobart admitted the process of convincing young people to make the pilgrimage was anything but difficult. Hobart is now a graduate assistant inside the MSU Athletics Department as an assistant to Stricklin and he arrived Sunday evening with a group of friends enrolled at MSU's graduate school.
"I think anybody that went last time would agree that the atmosphere was so much fun during the New Year's holiday and I must say the Gator Bowl people really do a great job of lining up all the events to keep the younger crowd entertained," Hobart said.
The attendance got even stronger during the holiday season when an anonymous donor purchased 100 tickets for the New Year's Day bowl in Jacksonville and will donate all of them to currently enrolled
students wishing to make the trip to support the Bulldogs. Students simply called a university hotline or visited to the Bryan Athletic Administration Building to claim their free ticket with a valid student ID. Any student who purchased a ticket at the lottery at Humphrey Coliseum behind Christmas break was eligible for a refund if they're one of the first 100 people to come to the Bryan Building to claim the free tickets from the donor. Despite both schools selling out their allotted tickets in less than a month, tickets can still be purchased via outside sources like Stubhub.com for reasonable prices
making the road trip to Jacksonville much more financially affordable for students.
Northwestern (9-4), ranked No. 21 according to the latest Associated Press poll, will be attending its fifth straight bowl game and fourth on New Year's Day in that time period. Playing on Jan. 1 is still
something special for the Wildcats fan base and not just because temperatures near the Evanston, Ill., campus is closer to 20 degrees with wind and snow. Before NU hired head coach Pat Fitzgerald, a
former Big Ten Conference defensive player of the year during his playing days with the Wildcats, Northwestern had been selected for six bowl games in school history. This fifth-year senior class will leave NU as the winningest class in school history currently with 39
"We're real excited for the opportunity and when I announced it to our young men a moment ago they were very excited and honored to represent the Big Ten," Fitzgerald said Sunday night on the bowl's
teleconference. "We have over 18,000 alumni in the state of Florida so we expect to have a large contingent in Jacksonville to match the MSU fan base.
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.
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