We're previewing 2012 with the bloggers who know their teams the best. Mark from For Whom The Cowbell Tolls (or "thecristilmethod" as he's known at FWTCT) helps us talk about Mississippi State's outlook.
It’s a tale of two halves looking at Mississippi State’s 2012 schedule. The front-end is fairly manageable as the Bulldog’s host their two toughest early-season opponents, Auburn and Tennessee. State’s final five-game stretch, however, is arguably the most difficult in the country. Before welcoming No. 10 Arkansas to Starkville Nov. 17, the Bulldog’s travel to defending-champion Alabama followed by a trip to Death Valley to take on top-ranked LSU two weeks later.
2011 Record: 7-6
2011 Bowl: Music City Bowl vs. Wake Forest, 23-17
2012 Bowl Projections:
- J.P. Palm (CBS Sports): Gator Bowl vs. Iowa
- Phil Steele: Liberty Bowl vs. UCF
Orlando Bowl History
Describe the 2011 season in two words.
Tyler Russell has seen a fair amount of action under Dan Mullen but always as part of a revolving door, and that might continue in 2012 with Dak Prescott knocking. Should Bulldog fans be excited about the depth or concerned about not having a clear-cut #1?
I think State fans should definitely be excited about the depth, and very little - if any - concerned about having a clear cut #1, because we do have one. Dak Prescott is essentially Chris Relf with a much better arm, and in the long run will fit Mullen's spread-option system much better than Tyler does. Prescott's size and talent have so many State fans excited, and he can only continue to improve as he is still young. But the fact of the matter for right now is that Tyler Russell is the #1 QB on this team, and will be going forward until he leaves, either through graduation or the NFL. Tyler is the most talented QB we have at this time, and in 2012 gives State the best chance to win with his arm and his ability to lead this team. There are some amongst our fan base that probably would have wanted to see him be named the clear starter last year, but Relf was enough of a threat with his legs to get a large chunk of the snaps at QB, even late in the season when it was clear Tyler was the better of the two. I think Russell is in for a big year, and I would not be surprised at all to see him break a good bit - if not all - of the school passing records before the season is out.
On paper, what looks like the toughest game this season?
People will scoff at this because it's not a textbook answer, but I'll go with week 2, home versus Auburn. Yes Auburn - in a schedule that includes Alabama, LSU, Arkansas and A&M. You have to understand that in years past, Auburn has been the stumbling block early on in State's seasons. We have traditionally played them in the second game of the season (first game of the conference schedule), and have been so close to beating them, only to fall short and come away empty handed. In 2011, State was within 6 inches of going to OT with the Tigers, but came up short yet again. I think that game could have swung State's season if it would have gone the other way, helping to build some more momentum going into the LSU game 5 days later and for weeks to come. There's no doubt the team was deflated after the loss in Auburn last year, and with that having been the 4th loss in a row to the Tigers, it has sort of become a mental thing. In a first half of the season that sets up nicely for State before the brutal final stretch begins, I think a win over Auburn is the difference between a New Year's Day bowl for State or another 7-6 season.
What’s the biggest defensive concern entering the late-season Alabama-A&M-LSU-Arkansas gauntlet?
Playing in the SEC is tough enough, but when you play 4 teams in a row like State will with Alabama, A&M, LSU, and Arkansas, you have to worry about how the defense will hold up. Last year State played Auburn and LSU within 6 days of each other, and it was evident against LSU that they were worn out; physically beaten down and exhausted by the bigger, stronger LSU offensive and defensive lines. I think this stretch of the 2012 schedule presents the same problem: how will Chris Wilson keep his defense from tiring after playing 4 of the biggest and best teams in the SEC? I think the key is the offense: can Tyler Russell and company stay on the field for longer periods of time to spell the defense? I think that will be the key to making it through that stretch with one or two wins, which I think is the best case scenario. If State's offense sputters and the defense is on the field for a large portion of the Alabama and A&M games, I think things could get bad for us in the last two against LSU and Arkansas. We will have enough to beat Texas A&M regardless, I believe, but a tired defense will have an even more difficult time against LSU and Arkansas.
All of this doesn't even mention going up against A.J. McCarron, Eddie Lacy, Christine Michael, Tyler Wilson, or any of the other All-SEC, All-American level talent players that State will face in that stretch. Could be brutal, but if State has the fight in them and plays well, it could also be a stretch that vaults us into the national spotlight.
Best case/worst case scenario for the postseason.
To me, the best case scenario for the State in 2012 is 10-2. I think State is more than capable of starting off 7-0, and I think we have it in us to beat Texas A&M and Arkansas at home, with a win over Ole Miss in Oxford to finish it out. I think that's a monumental season for our fanbase and program, and frankly one that's attainable. For the most part, I'd say that our fans have no huge expectations of winning in Tuscaloosa or Baton Rouge - I say you chalk those up as losses, but hope we play both teams tough, and if we come out of either one or both with wins, then we're tickled pink and consider it what it is: a miracle. A best case scenario for us is 10-2 with an outside shot at BCS, and a very good shot at playing somewhere on New Year's Day (NOTE: even at 10-2, the SEC will probably have 2-3 teams in front of us in line for a BCS bowl, so I'm not holding my breath on that one).
Worse case scenario would be 5-7, missing a bowl, and losing to Ole Miss to do so. I think the way the schedule shapes up, MSU being anything short of 5-2 to start off is a disaster. The next four games are easily all losable, which would put State at 5-6 and having to win in Oxford to make a bowl game. In a worse case scenario, State would lose that game to Ole Miss, and not only miss a bowl, but suffer 3 year's worth of redemption and taunting thrown back in our faces that frankly, we've had coming. If you lose to Ole Miss but still make a bowl I think the season is certainly a decent one, but a loss to Freeze and the feel good machine in Oxford to miss a bowl would put our program at DEFCON level-...well, whatever the one is right below nuclear war.
Two Questions In The Other Direction
Give us one interesting fact about the Capital One Bowl that we may not have known previously.
MSU's Assistant A.D. for Media Relations, Joe Galbraith, is a former Capital One Bowl (well, Florida Citrus Sports employee. He was with our Communications department from 2002-2005.
What type of workouts do the Capital One and Russell Athletic Bowls do in the offseason to stay in shape for each January 1st?
We've got Olympics fever, which means a lot of doubles tennis, beach volleyball and rhythmic gymnastics (the stuff we do with a ribbon can turn Bob Costas into a blubbering mess...with a deeper appreciation for rhythmic gymnastics). But also apparently Olympic fever is a real thing because we have lost 25 pounds while huddled around the online feed. Next week we'll dust off the ol' P90X discs, then two weeks from now we will have given that up and explained to everyone how we are bulking up for winter in Florida. We stay in shape by never getting into shape in the first place.
Thanks to Mark and For Whom The Cowbell Tolls for helping us out. The Bulldogs' next appearance in the Capital One Bowl will be their first, and we can only imagine the kind of excitement that would follow a nine- or 10-win MSU team to Orlando on such a historic occasion.
Big Ten Previews
- LSU with And The Valley Shook