If you compare the Mississippi State Bulldogs five years ago before head coach Dan Mullen took the helm to what has transpired since then, you would see that the program is no doubt better than the way Mullen found it in 2009.
Mullen has had a nice run the last few seasons in Starkville. The Bulldogs won three straight Egg Bowl games before last season when Ole Miss smacked the Dogs 41-24 in Oxford last November. They’ve also played in three straight bowl games for the second time in school history and the beginning of the expansion of Davis-Wade Stadium estimated at $75 million last year. The project will be completed next season and will bring stadium capacity to 61,337.
The program has improved under Mullen’s watch. However, the one-game improvement to 8-5 last season after winning the first seven games of the season didn’t sit well with the program. Especially after in-state rival, Ole Miss, in a rebuilding year under first-year head coach Hugh Freeze, went 7-6 and signed a top ten recruiting class in February.
The question this season will be whether or not the Dogs can keep a chip on their shoulder and a make a major step toward reversing an historical program trend in the SEC.
Mississippi State historically has had eight last place finishes, three finishes in the top half and only one division title in 1998 under legendary coach, Jackie Sherill.
To break this trend the fifth-year head coach has to do something he’s never done before in his time at Starkville, beat Alabama or LSU. A major plus is that the Dogs will have Ole Miss, Alabama and LSU all at Davis-Ware this season.
But it will be difficult for the Bulldogs who were picked second to last, just in front of Arkansas, at sixth in the West this season to make a run for the division crown.
And by good reasoning, the Bulldogs will have a young group this season as 10 returning seniors take the field to start the year against Oklahoma State in Houston.
But the heart of last season’s team returns with senior quarterback Tyler Russell, senior running back LaDarius Perkins, a veteran offensive line led by three-year starter senior left guard Gabe Jackson and a solid linebacker corps.
The Bulldogs will have a chance to flourish this season as Dan Mullen is giving his quarterback Russell, 2,897 yards, 24 TD and 10 picks last season, the authority to choose from three plays at the line of scrimmage each play. Mississippi State also looks to be predicated on running the football as they return Perkins at running back, who rushed for 1,061 yards over 205 carries last season. There is no returning starting receiver for the Bulldogs’ spread offense. However, Robert Johnson, Joe Morrow, Jameon Lewis, and newcomers Jeremy Chapelle and Fred Ross have the ability to be solid playmakers in Les Koenning’s offense in 2013.
On defense, coordinator Geoff Collins has to replace both cornerbacks with Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay who departed to the NFL. The Bulldogs will rely on the likes of Justin Cox and Jamerson Love to fill those spots. Safety Nickoe Whitley will man center field for the Bulldogs defense.
The defense will look to returning linebackers Bernardrick McKinney, Deonte Skinner and Matt Wells to be the leaders of a defense that ranked eighth in the SEC in total defense. Also look for newcomer textbook defensive end Chris Jones and junior end Denico Autry to play aggressively and wreak havoc from the end positions. Sophomore Kaleb Eulls will man the trenches on the defensive front.
For Mississippi State to make a run in 2013 it won’t be easy by looking closely at their schedule. An early date with offensive powerhouse, Oklahoma State, at Reliant Stadium and three consecutive games against possible top-ten opponents in November: South Carolina, Texas A&M and Alabama.
The truth is that if Mississippi State wants to ever be the big dog in the SEC, they must first learn how to beat the league’s top dogs first.
And the rest is just history.