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Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing Miss State

We caught up today with The Bruce Dickinson of the SB Nation blog, For Whom The Cowbell Tolls to get a preview of tomorrow's game with Mississippi State. We posed five questions to each other. You can find my responses here.

Bruce has some interesting things to say about Auburn, including mention of the death penalty. Take a look:

What worries MSU fans most about this game?

It's a classic trap game in every aspect. We are ranked 16, favored, on the road in the SEC (to Jordan-Hare, no less). Its a spot-on scenario that Mississippi State has been in too many times before.

We know that Auburn struggled against a good WAC team, but we also realize that we dominated what is probably the worst team in college football at Memphis. So while it is great to be favored and on paper it looks like we should easily beat Auburn, realistic State fans know that will not be the case.

How does this game rank in importance on the MSU schedule?

I think for both teams, this game will be an indicator of the rest of the season. It is early action against a quality SEC opponent that many teams do not get until their 3rd or 4th game.

We also have a pretty tough opening series of 5 games. We host LSU at home next week and go on the road to Georgia 2 weeks after that. For us to have a good season, we need to come out of this 5 game stretch sitting at 4-1. We were also winless against the SEC West last year - except for Ole Miss - and that is something this team and coach are ready to remedy this season.

How has the Cam Newton allegations affected this rivalry from an MSU prospective?

I think before all this happened, most State fans liked Auburn. We are similar institutions from an educational perspective (agriculture, engineering, etc) and the rivalry always seemed somewhat cordial - even if Shug Jordan DID cause us to lose our beloved cowbells. If none of the allegations had come out, I think the rivalry would have continued along that same path.

Now, I think things are a little more stressed. Mississippi State fans see the inevitability of the NCAA investigation and expect Auburn to get the death penalty any day now. Auburn fans seem to think this will all fall on Mississippi State because we are the ones that supposedly offered money for Newton's services.

Once it all shakes out, things will probably go back to the way they were, but there will always be that small group of fans who won't be able to let it go.

How does Vick Ballard rank among the top running backs in the SEC?
I think this year he is one of the top backs and a bit underrated. But it is also early in the season and there is a lot of football to be played. 

To hear Ballard talk about his accomplishments, he just says he runs wherever there is a hole. The key to a good running game (and good running back) is a good offensive line. 

We have plenty of experience on our o-line and you will see that experience help Ballard to put up some monster numbers this year. Sure he had 166 yards on 10 attempts at Memphis, but it was Memphis. I think he really wants to hit that 1000 yard mark this year (he was 19 yards shy of it last year).

What does success look like for MSU this season?

Last year we went 9-4 with a big win over Michigan in the Gator Bowl. I think success for us this year is at least a 9-win regular season and we have got to get some wins over some SEC West opponents.

I like our chances to do that over Auburn and Arkansas, but I am not sure about LSU and Alabama. And of course we will beat Ole Miss because that is just how we do it in Our State.