Or, sfslickdawg, you can just keep Mullen a few more years and we will just keep kickin' your tail. We may not ever lose to you again!
A year ago today, Mississippi State was sitting pretty at 3-0. Dan Mullen had finally gotten his first win over an SEC West foe not named Ole Miss (in a 28-10 win over Auburn). The Bulldogs would eventually work themselves all the way to a 7-0 record and a top 15 national ranking. Three years of building were finally paying off for State and its fourth-year head coach.
How quickly things can change.
When we at MrSEC.com mentioned throughout that 7-0 start that MSU had yet to beat a good BCS foe (Jackson State, Auburn, Troy, South Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi State were the wins), many Bulldog fans bit back. Their program had been in a rebuilding mode, we were told. Better to see victories over tin cans than losses to the big boys.
Today, Mullen gets much less protection from the fans who once cheered him. That’s because the so-called big boys of college football have kicked over and stomped upon Mississippi State’s castle. MSU has followed up on last year’s 7-0 start by losing five of its last six in 2012 and two of its first three in 2013. Losing seven out of nine games (with the wins coming against Arkansas and Alcorn State) is no way to please a fanbase. Not even fanbases that once defended cupcake scheduling.
As it turns out, the numbers for Mullen suggest the castle he’d constructed was built on sand in the first place:
* Mullen is 30-24 overall at Mississippi State
* His Bulldog teams are 2-17 against ranked opponents
* State is just 5-17 versus SEC West foes
* MSU is 13-20 in the SEC overall during Mullen’s tenure
* Of State’s 30 overall victories, five have come against FCS foes
* Only 15 of Mullen’s 30 victories have been gained against against BCS-level opponents
In addition, there’s a clear separation between the haves and have-nots that Mullen’s teams have bested to date:
* Mullen has recorded wins over Alcorn State (2), Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Houston, Jackson State (2), Kentucky (4), Louisiana Tech, Memphis (2), Michigan, MTSU (2), Ole Miss (3), South Alabama, Tennessee, Troy, UAB, UT-Martin, Wake Forest, and Vanderbilt.
* State’s losses under Mullen have come against Alabama (4), Arkansas (3), Auburn (4), Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Houston, LSU (4), Northwestern, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, South Carolina, and Texas A&M.
In four-plus seasons in Starkville, Mullen’s squads have recorded wins over six teams that finished their seasons with winning records (MTSU 8-4, Louisiana Tech 8-5, Florida 8-5, Michigan 7-6, MTSU 10-3, Kentucky 7-6). The teams MSU has vanquished since 2009 have a combined record of 125-185.
That might get you to a middle-tier bowl game — which beats no bowl game at all — but it’s hardly the way to a division title.
If you personally ate more cupcakes than meat or vegetables, your doctor would tell you to change your diet. The question is: Can Mullen succeed if State changes its diet? Moving forward, we probably won’t find out from a non-conference perspective. MSU’s list of future out-of-league foes includes Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama, UT-Martin, Louisiana Tech, Troy and Tulane. And after taking a 21-3 shot to the chin in this year’s opener against Oklahoma State, it’s doubtful that Mullen and AD Scott Stricklin will venture back into pay-for-play, neutral site game anytime soon.
In fairness to Mullen, the SEC West has been about the toughest division in football since his arrival in the Magnolia State. There haven’t been many teams who’ve beaten Alabama or LSU in that time. And — up until last year — Mullen had owned hated rival Ole Miss, going three-for-three in the Egg Bowl, marking the first time State had pulled a trifecta in the series since World War II.
Those wins over the Rebels and the confident talk of Mullen charged up the MSU fanbase. The school has sold so many tickets to football games in recent years that State has launched an expansion project at Davis Wade Stadium.
But despite all the “school up North” talk and the billboards at Mississippi’s borders, MSU seems to have fallen behind Ole Miss in both recruiting and hype. The Rebels scored a top 10 recruiting class last season. They’re currently ranked #9 by Rivals.com in terms of 2014 commitments. State is currently ranked #40 in the same listing. Hugh Freeze in just 16 games has already recorded wins over six BCS-level foes including a blowout win at Texas last week.
You can be sure State fans are aware of all of that.
Now, make no mistake, Mullen accepted a helluva challenge in Starkville. Of the 10 longtime members of the Southeastern Conference, State has fewer league titles — one back in 1941 — than every school but Vanderbilt. MSU fans might not want to hear it, but Mullen is basically trying to build the Vandy of the West. And building is a lot tougher in the West than in the East these days.
Still, MSU fans who once cheered Mullen have now realized that all those wins over cupcakes, creampuffs and other pastries didn’t actually prepare the Bulldogs for a move away from the kiddie table. One must wonder, then, if the future cupcakes on State’s schedule will be quite so filling for Bulldogs fans.
Mississippi State and Mullen still have opportunities to spring an upset and prove that they’re making progress this season — LSU, at South Carolina, at Texas A&M, Alabama. Games with rebuilding Arkansas and rival Ole Miss will be big and bigger as well.
For Mullen’s sake, it’s time to lay down an actual foundation. The one he’s put down so far has been made of sand… and the Tide (and Tigers and Aggies, etc) is coming in.