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Music City Bowl preview: Vanderbilt vs. N.C. State

Frank Schwab
Dr. Saturday

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(USA Today Sports Images)

Music City Bowl
Vanderbilt (8-4) vs. N.C. State (7-5)
Dec. 31, 12 p.m. ET (ESPN)

About the Commodores: With six straight wins, Vanderbilt played very well down the stretch. The only criticism of the Commodores' season was that they didn't get any signature wins (their four losses were to South Carolina, Northwestern, Georgia and Florida, and their best win was probably Ole Miss), but this is a very well coached team that was very good on defense and good enough on offense. Vanderbilt ranked 17th in total defense and 15th in scoring defense in FBS. Running back Zac Stacy is the workhorse for the offense. He finished the regular season with a 180-yard effort against Wake Forest.

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N.C. State QB Mike Glennon (USA Today Sports Images)

About the Wolfpack: It's not unusual to see a bowl team with an interim coach, but mostly that happens after a coach has taken a better job, not a firing. Tom O'Brien was let go after a 7-5 season and replaced by Northern Illinois' Dave Doeren, but offensive coordinator Dana Bible will coach the bowl game. N.C. State has been a hard team to figure out all season. It beat Florida State in one of the major upsets of the season, but also had days like a 33-6 loss to Virginia. Senior quarterback Mike Glennon, who passed for 3,648 yards this season, will try to end his college career with a victory.

Key number: 3
Since 1982, Vanderbilt has been invited to three bowl games - and all three have been in the state of Tennessee. This is the second trip to the Music City Bowl, with the first coming in 2008 (there was a Liberty Bowl appearance at the end of last season). Vanderbilt gets to play close to home, but that might not be the best motivation for a team that was probably hoping for a trip to a different city in the postseason.

The breakdown: The coaching change with N.C. State is an interesting factor, because this team's disappointing performance cost Tom O'Brien his job. It's obviously a team with some talent, because beating Florida State is a pretty big accomplishment. But it doesn't play at that level every time out. Vanderbilt is a little more predictable. The Commodores are going to give a good, solid effort. Whether N.C. State is up to playing its best game remains to be seen.

[Related: Top five college football stories of 2012]

Predictions
Frank Schwab: Vanderbilt 28, N.C. State 17

The Commodores' defense and home-field advantage will be tough to overcome. Sure, Vanderbilt likely wanted something a little more exotic in bowl destinations, but once the home crowd gets going it'll be a nice edge for the Commodores.

Graham Watson: N.C. State 24, Vanderbilt, 17
The way the bowl games have been going this season, I've learned to expect the unexpected. Vandy is basically playing at home, but I think N.C. State is going to be playing for fired coach Tom O'Brien. One final farewell for a coach, who probably shouldn't have been canned this season. N.C. State has more talent and it will show in this game.

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