MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Dan Mullen hasn’t had a losing season at Mississippi State since his first year directing the Bulldogs.
MSU finished 5-7 in 2009, but rattled off three-straight winning seasons and three bowl appearances.
Mullen and his Bulldogs need a win today to keep that streak alive. The Bulldogs (6-6) play the Rice Owls (10-3) at in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Kickoff is scheduled for 3 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN.
“It’s huge,” Mullen said Monday afternoon at a press conference ahead of the Liberty Bowl. “Finishing with a winning record for this senior class in a four-year span, to go have four-straight winning seasons is something that hasn’t happened very often at Mississippi State. That’s something that is pretty special.”
During that three-year stretch, MSU went 2-1 in bowl games, with the lone loss coming last year to Northwestern in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.
MSU enters the game with a good bit of momentum. Entering the final two games of the season, the Bulldogs were sitting at 4-6. They beat Arkansas and in-state rival Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl to get to a school-record fourth-straight bowl game.
Mullen wants his team to carry that momentum over, so the momentum will carry over into 2014 and not leave a bad taste in his team’s mouth for eight months.
“Finishing on a positive note at the end of the season certainly helps,” Mullen said. “Our guys also know how important this is to go win this game. We don’t play again until I think August 30. That’s eight full months until we get to play again. You want to have that positive feeling, not just coming into the bowl game, but going into the offseason.”
Rice head coach David Bailiff said that Mullen told him that Bulldog fans were going to ring their cowbells responsibly.
The artificial noisemakers will be allowed in Liberty Bowl Stadium, but the same rules the Southeastern Conference has in place for MSU home games regarding the tradition will apply in this game.
The Owls will have to block out the cowbells and maroon-clad crowd, as it will basically be a home game for the Bulldogs.
Mullen has encouraged fans to buy tickets and show up to support the Bulldogs. MSU sold out its allotment of 16,000 tickets, and the bowl record attendance is expected to be broken.
“We’ve asked our fans to come out and do things before, (and) they’ve been able to come through for us,” Mullen said. “I certainly hope we have a lot of traffic heading over the state line (Tuesday). This is a huge community and there are a lot of Mississippi State fans in this community here.”
The Owls won’t back down though. Rice won Conference USA this season and had one of its goals come to fruition when they beat Marshall in Houston, Texas.
“We asked them to dream big and set their goals high,” Bailiff said. “We wanted to win Conference USA, we wanted to go to the Liberty Bowl, which for Conference USA is where the champ goes. You have to win Conference USA to achieve that goal.”
Mullen understands what it means to be a team from the Southeastern Conference playing against a team from a lesser conference.
“I know everybody in our league takes a lot of pride in it, but it also puts a huge target on your back,” Mullen said. “I imagine all the guys at Rice are sitting there saying ‘not only do we get to beat Mississippi State (today), we have the opportunity to beat a SEC school.’ We’re playing a conference champion and it’s obviously a great challenge.”
The last month for Bulldog sophomore quarterback Dak Prescott has been up and down.
The Haughton, La., native suffered an arm injury against Texas A&M on Nov. 9. He missed the next two games and didn’t see action against the Rebels until the fourth quarter.
Prescott came in and scored the game-winning touchdown on a 4th and 2 in overtime to get the Bulldogs bowl eligible.
He is not 100 percent, but will be ready to roll.
“It was a nerve issue which is all time-oriented,” Mullen said. “If he’s not 100 percent strength back, he’s pretty close.
“We’re probably not going to get 100 percent back until he gets into the offseason because we’ve had practice.”
There has been a good bit of talk over this past week about the Rice cornerbacks.
It has all be warranted.
Senior Phillip Gaines, who usually lines up on the right side, has a team-high four interceptions. Bryce Callahan, who plays on the left side, is tied for second on the team with three picks.
“They’re as good as I’ve seen this year,” Mullen said. “We play some pretty good corners week in and week out in the Southeastern Conference. What makes them so tough is it’s not one, it’s two.”
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