Dan Mullen has Mississippi State trending upward after some dark days under his predecessor Sylvester Croom.
Croom went 21-38 in his five years at Starkville with a 10-30 mark in the SEC making just one bowl appearance, a Liberty Bowl victory against Texas A&M, in 2007.
Hired in 2009, Mullen brought a winning pedigree with him from his days as quarterbacks coach at Utah under Urban Meyer during their undefeated season in 2004 with quarterback Alex Smith, who would later go on to be the top pick in the NFL draft.
When Meyer took the job at Florida in 2005, he followed him to Gainesville and was the offensive coordinator for two national championship teams and tutored Chris Leak, Tim Tebow, and Cam Newton.
The latter two would win a Heisman trophy and Newton added a national title after transferring to Auburn by way of Blinn junior college.
Mullen clearly can coach quarterbacks and will work with Tyler Russell at Mississippi State who enters his junior season as the starter after getting spot duty his first two years on the Starkville campus in relief of Chris Relf.
He will have a deep core of wide receivers to throw to in what figures to be a vastly improved aerial attack this season with Russell under center after a run-oriented approach with Relf.
His top targets will be Arceto Clark, who led the team in yards (442) and touchdowns (4), Chris Smith, the team leader in receptions (35), and Chad Bumphis, the team’s big play-threat.
The native of Tupelo, Bumphis was one of Mullen’s first recruits and has struggled to live up to the lofty and perhaps unfair expectations that preceded his arrival on campus.
Bumphis is a playmaker in the return game as well and getting the ball in his hands as much as possible will be a priority for offensive coordinator Les Koenning.
The Bulldogs need to replace Vick Ballard who has piled up more than 2,000 yards and scored 29 touchdowns on the ground the past two seasons.
LaDarius Perkins gets the starting running back duties this season, and the speedster will look to show the fans at Davis-Wade stadium that he will be ready to run through SEC defenses this year.
The fans of the Bulldogs have flocked to games under Mullen selling out 16 straight home games and will extend that streak when they welcome Jackson State to Scott Field on September 1st.
Tailgaters will fill up the Junction, one of the country’s premiere sites for tailgating festivities, early on Saturday mornings this fall with smoked brisket and ribs permeating throughout the air and maroon and white as far as the eye can see.
Little girls will be dressed in their cheerleader outfits and little boys will sports their favorite jersey and line up take their picture with the school’s beloved bulldog mascot Bully.
There is a tradition of ringing cowbells after scores and big plays among Bulldog fans and with Mullen at the helm bells will be ringing throughout Davis-Wade stadium as the excitement for this season is reaching a fever pitch.
.Opposing teams deride the sound of 55,000 cowbells ringing in a sold-out crowd, but it is music to the ears of those “true maroon” fans that stuck with the program during the dark days that preceded Mullen’s arrival in Starkville.
A schedule that can see the team open with a 7-0 start if they can get past Auburn in week two will put Starkville, Mississippi, on the college football map and in the heart of the top 25 teams in the country.
This is just the way Mullen envisioned it would be when he took over four years ago.
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Patrick is a diehard Chicago sports and avid college football fan, and the host of “The Wake-up Call,” a weekly sports show on Sportstownchicago.com Wednesday mornings from 8-10. View his show’s website here.