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December 9, 2013
Mullen Excited for Liberty Bowl Berth
50 years ago this season, the Bulldogs were finishing off a solid year in the frigid temperatures of Philadelphia, Penn., as they brought home a Liberty Bowl win. On the 50th Anniversary, the Bulldogs will return to that bowl game, this time in Memphis, Tenn., where MSU was selected on Sunday evening.
"As a team, we are very grateful for the opportunity to go play in the bowl game," Dan Mullen said Sunday night at the official bowl press conference. "I do think it is special. In my five years as a head coach I don't think there's a bowl group that's supported us and come to watch us play (like the Liberty bowl). The opportunity for us to go play a Conference Champion like Rice is a great opportunity and honor."
"I've had the honor of coaching in the Liberty Bowl a long time ago in 2003. It's obviously a fun time for all of the players and a first-class operation."
The Bulldogs are indeed paired with the Rice Owls out of Houston, Texas, who just finished off a solid 2013 season with a Conference USA Championship win on Saturday and a 10-win season. While the C-USA's selection of the bowl wasn't known but a few days ago, both the Liberty Bowl and the Bulldogs new where they wanted to be for several weeks now with bowl reps at most of the Bulldogs' games this season.
"I think since we've been here, they've supported us," Mullen said of the Liberty Bowl crew. "We wanted the opportunity to go play there so when you look at both sides there was a mutual attraction where we wanted to make this happen. I think when you go up there; there are so many great things about the bowl. They do such a great job."
Mississippi State had their backs against the wall after their loss to Alabama just four weeks ago. It was a valiant effort, but a loss all in the same. State was sitting at 4-6 and had to win their final two games of the season to get to its fourth-straight bowl. After two overtime wins, the Bulldogs did just that on their way to Liberty.
"I think everyone was really excited," Mullen said of becoming bowl eligible. "We always want to be better. I want to be 13-0 the first Sunday in December. But you look at our team and the quality teams that we've played, I think our players know that we're not far off. For them to finish the season like they did, getting the opportunity to play a Conference Champion and a 10-win team is pretty special. I know there's a lot of motivation from me and my staff and I know my players will be motivated as well."
"In some ways, I guess if you watched the SEC Championship game, it's not mandatory to go to a bowl game the year before to compete for a championship. I think it's pretty special that we keep the consistency going. To make it to bowl games, to have another winning season, that consistent winning allows you to put yourself in a position to make a run at a championship at some point."
Coming in to the season, most projected the Bulldogs to get to six wins as they did. The way that they played this season was more of a surprise than anything as no one could have predicted just how many injuries and how many young players would have to fill holes in an already depleted and young roster. Mullen saw his team grow right before his very eyes and sees the bright future ahead for them.
"I think one you look for leadership. Obviously you look at guys like Gabe Jackson and Nickoe Whitley for leadership from seniors. That's critical over the last couple of weeks," Mullen said. "But also I think you've seen the team grow and develop over the year. I think we've had a lot of young players step in to leadership roles. We keep talking about young players can't look around, they have to put it on their shoulders and go make plays. I know Taveze (Calhoun) made a bunch of plays in the last three games of the season. Not just him, but you look at the whole roster and all of these young players, finally as the season went on, took that leadership on their own shoulders."
The bowl announcement was exciting for MSU on Sunday but now the real work begins. Mullen has had the opportunity to see a little bit of the Owls and sees just another tough opponent that his team has in front of them. That's nothing new for this team, of course.
"Obviously it's a team that knows how to win. They won their Conference Championship," Mullen said of Rice. "You look at our ballgames: we played Auburn and they won the conference, we played Bowling Green who won their conference and Oklahoma State just came up short. I don't know if there's a lot of teams out there that's played three Conference Champions. I think that's the thing that's great motivation for us. It just shows the quality teams that we continue to play. It's another 10-win team, it seems like we've played a lot of 10-win teams this year. This will be another one."
"I think it's a great opportunity for us now. We have a week's worth of practice here and one more game prep for everybody, especially for these young players. It's an opportunity to celebrate and play one more game."
Mullen confirmed that practice will begin this Friday after MSU finishes up final exams. Saturday-Tuesday will be morning practices that are open to the public for viewing. The team will report to Memphis the 26th preparing for the Bowl.
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