Checking in on Mississippi State with Justin Sutton of For Whom the Cowbell Tolls.
1. This is new territory for Mississippi State -- coming off a 10-win season that saw the Bulldogs spend time in the top five...what's the mood like in Starkville right now?
I would say most fans are cautiously optimistic for the upcoming season. This is uncharted waters for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have only had a handful of 10-win seasons, and the five weeks at the No. 1 ranking are the only five weeks Mississippi State has spent at the top in football.
All that said, anyone that would completely discount the losses on the offensive line, the defense, Josh Robinson and the challenges of playing in the SEC West would be foolish.
Expectations are higher than ever in Starkville, and fans do not want to see the days of 6-6 or 7-5 replace the feeling of 10-win seasons, but the fact is the line between those records in this division are quite slim.
Perhaps the best word to use is excited. Everyone is ready to get football season going.
2. Dak Prescott's going to be getting a ton of preseason love this year. What's he have to work on this spring?
Prescott needs to continue to develop as a passer. It looked like defenses started to figure out his tendencies late in the season as his interception total climbed quickly down the stretch. If he can become more comfortable with a variety of throws and continue to build chemistry with his receivers, he should have a solid year.
Personally, I'd like to see less running from Prescott and more down-field completions. I think if he becomes someone who makes multiple big plays through the air and can supplement that with his rushing abilities, he will become a nearly unstoppable quarterback.
3. The loss of Josh Robinson won't get a ton of ink from the punditry, but is it a concern to lose a playmaker like that alongside Prescott?
Losing Josh Robinson will be a blow. However, the Bulldogs have several players who can jump into the mix and attempt to replace him. As long as a powerful back such as Ashton Shumpert can get it going, the Bulldogs should click along fine at the position.
Perhaps the bigger rushing game issue will be the losses along the offensive line. LSU's favorite Dylan Day will be difficult to replace, as will Ben Beckwith, especially with his versatility. The Bulldogs need the offensive line to gel quickly to have a successful season.
4. How much of a concern is the defense with just four starters returning?
The Bulldogs showed a lot of depth defensively last year, so many backups played the about same amount of time as starters. There are several players that looked ready to take the next step and become starters during the season, so I think the team will be more experienced than some expect.
The other factor to consider is that Mississippi State has a new defensive coordinator in Manny Diaz. The bigger question might be how will the players adjust to the new schemes and terminology that come with that change. In some ways, this might be the opportune time to have so many new starting faces on the defense.
5. They say that success spoils success. Are the expectations raised now for Dan Mullen as a $4 million man?
I don't see how expectations cannot be raised at this point. Mississippi State made a major statement with this contract. Just five or so years ago, the idea of a coach in Starkville making that kind of money would have been considered lunacy. However, it is now a reality.
I think Mullen making that type of money shows that Scott Stricklin is serious about trying to turn Mississippi State into a powerhouse athletic program when one sees it in the scope of the entire athletic department. The Bulldogs just hired an accomplished basketball coach in Ben Howland, and they have major plans on a huge upgrade/redesign of Dudy Noble Field.
The expectations continue to grow outside of the big three. Vann Stuedemann has softball playing at its highest level in some time. The women's golf team briefly held the No. 1 ranking in the fall, and they have stayed in the top-five in the spring. The men's tennis program is consistently nationally ranked.
The interesting thing to watch will be to see if these investments pay the dividends Bulldog fans hope to see. If football falls back off to the days of just making a bowl each year, fans will become disillusioned quickly.
Looking back to the 1998-2000 seasons, Mississippi State had one of the best on-campus environments for a football game. The fans were rabid, and they expected wins each game. When the program began to decline in 2001, the fans started growing disgruntled. They want to see success.