Metal Building Dawg of For Whom The Cowbell Tolls was willing to help give us some intel on how spring practice is going up in Starkvegas.
1. What's the general vibe like up there in Starkville?
Kind of a "meh" feeling I guess. Folks were really excited about 2011 and it churned just a 7-6 year, however, we played Bama and y'all closer than any other SEC team (except when you played each other) and we beat Ole Miss, won the bowl game so there was still some stuff to build on. 2012 starting off with a bunch of fool's gold and it's not that we lost 5 games down the stretch; it's that we got blown out and looked unprepared to play in those games. The LSU game was our best in that stretch but we still lost by 17 or so points. So it's kind of a wait and see what happens, I don't want to give my hopes up feeling right now.
2. Is it time for this program to contend for the Western Division title?
No. We don't have any grand illusions that we are ready to dethrone Bama or LSU. I'm sure our brothers to the north think they'll win it this year but we are more realistic in Starkville. I think we are still 2-3 years away from contending for the West. Right now we still have two recruiting classes (2010 & 2011) who ranked in the 30s and 40s that make up a large portion of our team. We may be able to pull an upset or two, but not get anywhere near the 7-1 or 8-0 it takes to win the division.
3. On offense, Tyler Russell and LaDarius Perkins are back, but the top 4 receivers are gone. What are the expectations for the offense?
I expect the offense to be better. We are returning 12 of our top 13 offensive lineman from last year including all-SEC guard Gabe Jackson. Tyler Russell is the best passing QB in our history, and we have full complement of talented tailbacks. The question is the receiving corps as you mentioned, but I think they will be able to come close to repeating last year's production. We are in the process of transitioning from 5-10 wideouts to 6-3 guys and that will payoff soon.
4. How about the defense without Jonathan Banks and Cameron Lawrence?
The linebackers (Lawerence) I'm not worried about - we have a lot of talent there and he is the only one from that group leaving. The secondary will definitely hurt losing 3 starters including Banks and Slay -- both of which could be drafted on Day 1 (or the old day 1 - first 3 rounds). We have a juco cornerback in Justin Cox that should be able to fill in one of the spots fairly well, but there is no question this will be our weakness. The D-line should improve as we have a bunch of young talent and a new D-line coach that should bring some intensity. Geoff Collins also moves in at DC and we're really excited about that because Chris Wilson and his schemes were horrible last year.
5. It feels like expectations have shifted for the Bulldogs under Dan Mullen, and its time for the program to move forward. That said, 2012 ended on a rough note, and in-state momentum appears to be shifting more towards Ole Miss. Does that create more pressure for Mullen and staff?
Ole Miss definitely picked themselves up off the mat with Hugh Freeze, but I don't think Dan Mullen is under any sort of pressure because of it. Now, if we lose AT HOME to them this year then he will start feeling the heat - but one loss in four year (and to a really hungry OM team) - I think MSU fans are happy with that.
The pressure is starting to mount, however, for Mullen to get a signature win. He has beaten some quality programs, but they were down when he did. He hasn't been able to beat a team that was good all year, finished in the top 25. By the same token, he's done a great job of beating who he is supposed to which was a near impossibility under Croom and the end of Sherrill's tenure. Still, the number one goal for half our fanbase is beating Ole Miss, and if we can do that and go to a bowl game, Mullen is in no trouble at all.