My answers to Justin's questions are posted at For Whom the Cowbell Tolls.
FRTS: What were the expectations in Starkville heading into the season with a schedule that looked extremely tough?
JS: Expectations were all over the board for Mississippi State fans this season. I think going into the season, the two games most felt most likely to be a loss were at LSU and at Alabama. Many felt Auburn, Texas A&M and Ole Miss might be leans towards the bad guys or tossups, and I think most felt that all of the other games were wins. That said, I think most would have felt that going 8-4 was a fair expectation, and 10-2 was on the high end of expectations.
Most fans felt that the three game stretch of at LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn would set the pace for the season, which it did.
FTRS: After the impressive start, what is the mood like now after a couple of disappointing losses to Alabama and Ole Miss? Are fans disappointed, or are they satisfied the Bulldogs are even in the position to be playing in the Orange Bowl?
JS: Those losses were frustrating because of what they meant. Had Mississippi State not started slowly against Alabama and coughed up five easy, quick points, they could have been in position to win that game in the end. If they had won the game, they would have played for the SEC championship, and probably had a spot in the playoff. If they had knocked off Ole Miss, they might have still found a way to sneak into the playoff, but that seems doubtful in hindsight.
I think it is fair to say that there is a bit of a disappointment that the Bulldogs floundered down the stretch, but the Orange Bowl is a heck of a consolation prize. It has been over 70 years since the Bulldogs have played in this type of bowl game.
FTRS: How do MSU fans travel usually? Do you expect plenty of cowbells in Miami to close out 2014?
JS: Mississippi State fans have gotten a bit of an unfair reputation in the past as a team that does not travel. That said, they played in one of the most poorly attended Gator Bowls a few years ago against Northwestern. The Bulldogs came in on a terrible skid, 1-3 in their last four games, and fans were sort of blah about the game.
However, look at what the fan base did to Omaha in 2013 for an example of how well they will travel. The town was covered in Maroon and White for the championship series against UCLA. While some fans have complained that the Miami area is a tough trip, I think you will still see a strong showing of Mississippi State fans at Sun Life Stadium, cowbells in hand and ringing responsibly.
FTRS: Talk about how well Dak Prescott has progressed this year and how he's improved his game after a pretty mediocre campaign last year.
JS: Last year, Prescott got thrown into the starting role, and he had never had much time to prepare to be the starter. That said, he did a good job for Mississippi State in 2013. With a half year of experience as a starter and a full spring of practice, everyone expected Prescott to be much improved, but seeing him contend for the Heisman shocked most, even though he went into the season as a dark-horse candidate.
The biggest change for Prescott has been upping his completion percentage and improving as a passer. When he gets going with the passing game, he can make play after play, which makes the running attack for Mississippi State much more dangerous. One thing that has gone a bit underrated in his passing attack is that he has done much of it without the No. 1 receiver at the beginning of the year, Jameon Lewis, who missed several games with an injury.
At the end of the day, Prescott is a true dual-threat quarterback that can win a game with his arm or his legs.
FTRS: Other than Prescott and Robinson, name three players that Tech fans should be looking out for in the Orange Bowl.
JS: De'Runnya Wilson is a wide receiver that could go down as one of the best, if not the best, all-time at Mississippi State when all is said and done. He was a former Mr. Basketball that dabbled with football his senior season of high school. He has developed as a receiver, and he is great as using his size and speed to snag all sorts of passes, and Georgia Tech fans will appreciate the way he blocks down field.
Defensively, watch for Benardrick McKinney. The junior linebacker is all but a lock to declare for the NFL draft, and he may go as high as the first round. He is quite a force on defense.
Finally, look for someone out of the group of Fred Ross (WR), Gabe Myles (WR), Jameon Lewis (WR) to have a solid game on offense, and defensively, keep an eye on Will Redmond, Preston Smith and Chris Jones.
FTRS: How do you think the aggressive scheme of the MSU defense will matchup with the Georgia Tech option attack?
JS: Mississippi State does a pretty good job of swarming to the ball, but they have to be sure that they are swarming to the ball against Georgia Tech. If they bite on too many fakes, it is going to be a very long day for the Bulldogs. This is an opportunistic defense that played great against the run, and they really shut teams down in the red zone. If the defense can make Georgia Tech settle for field goals, I'll feel pretty good about the Bulldogs' chances in this game.
My bigger concern might be the fact that the Yellow Jackets like to hit big pass plays, and the secondary has given up a share of them this season. If Georgia Tech gets a few scores that way, it may not be pretty for Mississippi State.
FTRS: First, tell me how much you love Dan Mullen. How worried are MSU fans about Mullen potentially departing Starkville in the future?
JS: Pretty much every Mississippi State fan loves Dan Mullen. He is a great personality in that position, even if he is bit brash at times.
I would rather have a coach that other teams want than one they do not. That said, Mullen seems pretty happy to be in Starkville, and I don't feel that he is leaving any time soon. That said, if Mississippi State builds on 2014 and has a better 2015, there will be some folks calling, and a move might happen.
My theory with coaches is to enjoy them while you have them, and thank them for making your program better. If Mullen leaves on day, he has made Mississippi State a much better program.
FTRS: Finally, how do you see it all playing out on Wednesday? Does Tech take down another bulldog from the SEC, or does Mississippi State cap off a truly special year with a victory?
JS: I think this is going to be a close game throughout. If Mississippi State can keep the option in check early and get ahead, that makes them more likely to pick up a win. The Bulldogs have an offense that can come from behind if need be, so that gives them a bit of an advantage.
It's going to be very close. I'll go with Mississippi State 34 Georgia Tech 30.