NC State football coach Dave Doeren spent a good portion of his postgame press conference Saturday politicking for his Wolfpack to be selected to “an elite bowl” and earn a spot in the national rankings.
Though he didn’t get the latter — the Wolfpack placed third among teams also receiving votes on this week’s AP Top 25 — he and his players will have the opportunity to play a name-brand opponent in a highly regarded postseason game.
State will take on Texas A&M in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., on New Year’s Eve, where it will attempt to reach the 10-win mark in a season for only the second time in school history. Kickoff for the first meeting between the teams is at 7:30 p.m. with television coverage on ESPN.
The rest of the state’s bowl lineup includes Wake Forest playing Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl on Dec. 22, Duke playing Temple at the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., on Dec. 27, and newly crowned Sun Belt Conference champion Appalachian State playing Middle Tennessee State in the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 15.
Also on Dec. 15, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion NC A&T will take on Southwestern Athletic Conference champion Alcorn State in the Celebration Bowl at Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium for a shot at its second straight HBCU national championship.
“We had a lot of conversations with different people through the week, and we’re excited to be in the Gator Bowl,” Doeren said on a teleconference Sunday night. “That was one of the ones we were all hoping we would get.
“The state of Florida is important to us in recruiting, and we have a ton if alumni that are in the area or are in drivable distance of Jacksonville.”
A&M (8-4) has had an eventful season, highlighted by a narrow 28-26 loss to Clemson on Sept. 8 and a marathon 74-72 win against LSU that took seven overtimes to decide in the regular season finale two weeks ago.
This will be the fourth trip to the Gator Bowl for State, but the first since Jan. 1, 2003, when Philip Rivers led the Wolfpack to a 28-6 win against Notre Dame and a school-record 11th win of the season. The game against A&M will also mark a reunion of sorts, now that the Aggies are led by former Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher.
“We competed against each other when Jimbo was at Florida State and our staff hasn’t changed,” said Doeren, whose 9-3 team closed out its regular season with a 58-3 rout of East Carolina on Saturday. “It will be probably both of us looking at what we do different than we used to and to the players that are doing it matchup-wise.”
For Duke, the Independence Bowl will be its sixth bowl trip in the past seven years. The Blue Devils (7-5) will be seeking a third straight postseason victory after beating Indiana in the 2016 Pinstripe Bowl and Northern Illinois last year at the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit.
While this will be Duke’s first trip to Shreveport, it’s a familiar venue for coach David Cutcliffe — who led Ole Miss to three Independence Bowl wins in a five-year stretch from 1998-2002. His success helped him earn induction into the Independence Bowl Hall of Honor.
Kickoff for the matchup against the 8-4 Owls of the American Athletic Conference is 1:30 p.m. on ESPN.
“Obviously, we have a great deal of history in Shreveport in association with this bowl game,” Cutcliffe said. “I’m excited for our players to have another opportunity to practice together and play in a 13th game of this season. This group has earned the opportunity to win the program’s third bowl game in a row.”
Wake Forest (6-6) qualified for the postseason by winning its final regular season game at Duke two weeks ago, but it still had some nervous moments before finally learning its bowl destination Sunday.
Most projections had the Deacons slotted in the Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa, Fla., but after that bid went to Marshall, coach Dave Clawson’s team faced the possibility of getting shut out of the bowl lineup, since the ACC had more teams qualify than it had automatic bids.
But everything turned out for the best when Wake was selected to play AAC runner-up Memphis (8-5) at historic Legion Field. The Tigers, who lost to unbeaten Central Florida in their conference championship game last week, are led by running back Darrell Henderson — who ranks second in the nation with 1,909 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns.
Kickoff is 1:30 p.m. with television coverage on ESPN.
“This is as strange of a bowl selection as I’ve been a part of,” Clawson said. “We really didn’t know until 30 seconds before it became public where we were going. Usually with bowl games you know a couple hours before it was announced. We found out 30 seconds before it was announced.”
Unlike the Deacons, there was no suspense in Appalachian State’s postseason destination.
The Mountaineers earned the Sun Belt Conference’s automatic bid to the New Orleans Bowl at the Superdome by beating Louisiana-Lafayette in the league’s inaugural championship game on Saturday. App State (10-2) will face Middle Tennessee (8-5) in the 9 p.m. kickoff on ESPN.
“Once our guys found out, if you win the championship this year, you’re going to New Orleans, that fired everybody up,” said Mountaineers coach Scott Satterfield, who likely won’t coach the bowl game after being named Louisville’s new coach on Tuesday. “You’re playing in a primetime slot on ESPN, so everybody is excited and pumped about going to a different city.
“We’ll face a great opponent in Middle Tennessee. When you are fortunate to play in a bowl game, you know that the other team is going to be a quality opponent that will also be fired up about playing one more time.”