Music City Bowl coaches see game as an oppotunity to add to memories

Thursday, December 29, 2011 at 11:45pm

The week leading up to the Music City Bowl has not centered completely around football.

No, at a joint head coaches teleconference on Thursday, Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen described the previous three days as educational. He was not talking about classrooms and lecture.

Mississippi State and Wake Forest, which kick off at 5:40 p.m. (ESPN) on Friday, have been soaking in the culture. Both teams have stayed in the spacious Gaylord Opryland Resort — “We’re staying at a hotel that has more people than most of their hometowns,” Mullen said — and have kept busy with numerous activities.

On Tuesday, they stepped aboard the General Jackson Showboat for a welcome party that featured Rock Band and rib-eating contests. The next day, both teams attended the Nashville Predators game — a first for many.

“They were interested in what the black ball they played with was when they went to the game,” Mullen joked. “Now they know it is a puck. Hockey is not a big sport in Mississippi. ... There are some new hockey fans out there.”

Both Mullen and Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe, though, are quick to stress to their players that the outside activities are a bonus, not the goal of the week.

“I think we find out [Friday] night whether we’ve handled the distractions well,” Grobe said. “I think one of our keys, like Dan with his team, is we’ve tried to let the kids enjoy the bowl experience but at the same time realize we’re getting ready to play a really good football team. We’ve seemed to work pretty good. ... For us, we’ve prepared about as well as we can, we just need to play.”

Both teams are 6-6 and are playing in the Music City Bowl for the first time. Wake Forest hasn’t played in a bowl since 2008 but is trying to extend its postseason winning streak to three games. Mississippi State, which played in the Gator Bowl last year, has won four straight bowl games, dating back to 1999.

“This has been a great event so far for us,” Mullen said. “It is a great educational experience for all of our young men and have we had a great time so far. If we could finish it off with a win it would be a spectacular bowl trip.”

• Gameday events: Mississippi State will host a pep rally at 1:45 p.m. at the Court of Flags off First Avenue on Broadway. Wake Forest will hold a similar rally at 2:30 p.m.

At the same location, there will be a free concert featuring the band Small Time Rock Stars at 3 p.m. From 2:30-5:30 p.m., a fan zone area with interactive games will be open to the public at LP Field in the South End Zone area in Lot R.