By Brad Locke
STARKVILLE – A week from today, Mississippi State’s football team will return to the practice fields to begin bowl game preparations.
The Bulldogs don’t yet know which bowl they’ll be in – assignments will be made Sunday – but coach Dan Mullen has a good idea of what the schedule will look like this month.
The first week of work will be focused on younger players, then MSU will have game-week work for a few days before breaking Dec. 20 for Christmas. The team will reconvene Dec. 26 at the bowl site for more game-week prep.
State’s bowl game will most likely be on either Dec. 30 or 31.
Mullen’s approach to bowl preparation was formed during his time as Florida’s offensive coordinator, under Urban Meyer. In 2007, the Gators had a long time between the SEC championship game and BCS title game, so they had to find ways to avoid monotony.
“When we leave to go home before we go to the bowl site … I want our guys finishing like it’s a Thursday practice, so we’re wrapping up ready to go play the game,” said Mullen.
This is the second consecutive bowl game for MSU, which beat Michigan in the Gator Bowl last year.
Until practices begin, Mullen and his coaches are out recruiting, and the bowl berths are a big part of the recruiting pitch.
“I don’t think you’re ever going to see a team that goes from not very good for consecutive years on to a national championship, which is synonymous right now with an SEC West championship,” Mullen said. “We’re telling kids we’re looking for guys that can come in and help us take that next step to get up to that national title contender spot.”
Mullen and MSU basketball coach Rick Stansbury each have a young player who’s out while dealing with personal issues.
Sophomore wide receiver Michael Carr has been on personal leave, and Mullen said earlier this week that when the West Point product gets things worked out, “he knows he’s welcome back here.” Carr played in the first eight games and has missed the last four.
Stansbury said Thursday that freshman Shawn Long, a 6-foot-10 guard from Morgan City, La., continues to deal with personal issues. Long hasn’t yet played for the No. 21-ranked Bulldogs, and Stansbury said “we’re going to see where he’s at mentally” at the end of this semester before deciding how to proceed.
Third-year sophomore guard Shaun Smith, who’s had an injury-filled career, hasn’t played this year due to a hip injury. Stansbury said MRI tests showed Smith to have “arthritic changes” in his right hip, and those tests were referred to Dr. Thomas Byrd in Nashville.
Byrd is a hip specialist who performed surgery on former MSU guard Twany Beckham, who’s now at Kentucky.
“He’s done a little bit more this week, but he still has pain with it,” Stansbury said of Smith.
It’ll probably be a while before MSU hears back from the SEC on how well fans complied with the league’s cowbell policy this football season, but athletics director Scott Stricklin was upbeat on the topic. From what he’s heard from the SEC, Stricklin said “the comments throughout the year have been positive.”
State was fined $30,000 last year for violating the policy in two of four SEC home games, with the penalty being handed down at the annual SEC spring meetings. If found to be in non-compliance this season, MSU would have to pay $50,000 per violation. The cowbell policy is in the second year of a trial run.