The Mississippi State Bulldogs football program’s success with Dan Mullen as its head coach is unprecedented in its school’s history. Mullen will start his fifth season against Oklahoma State on Aug. 31 as the school’s all-time leader in wins in a four year span, 29; all 29 wins came his first four seasons on the job in Starkville. Mullen has taken the Bulldogs to three straight bowl appearances, the last three seasons, and was a game short of bowl eligibility in his first season in 2009. With success comes expectations, however, and after a poor ending to the season in 2012, Mississippi State fans want their first taste at a SEC West division title since 1998 to come instantly. That should be far from reality at this point, as this season will be a carbon copy of last season’s finish.
Whether they like it or not, Mississippi State will take a step back in Mullen’s fifth season.
In the first seven ball games last season, Mississippi State was on some kind of tear, as they were winners of all seven games, and nationally ranked at the 15th spot, before meeting the toughest part of their schedule. An Alabama loss in the eighth game began a stretch where they lost five of their final six games by an average margin of 23 points. The Bulldogs lost to everyone they should have; for example, teams like Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M. The season became a disaster with gut wrenching losses in the team’s final two games. The Bulldogs were leveled by in-state rivals Ole Miss and broke Northwestern’s 64-year bowl losing streak with a double digit loss in the 2013 Gator Bowl.
A classic case of a team that wasn’t as good as their actual record would indicate. The Bulldogs played a total relax or soft schedule overall, picking up victories in non-conference over Troy, South Alabama, Jackson State, and Middle Tennessee State. The other half of their victories came against mediocre opponents on both sides of the SEC, such as Tennessee and Kentucky, who combined for one victory in SEC play. Similarly, Arkansas and Auburn were just as awful week in and week out; yet, Arkansas was without a true coaching staff, and the Bulldogs were basically handed that game on a silver platter.
The team loses 15 total receiving touchdowns on offense out of the trio of receivers, Chad Bumphis, Arceto Clark and Chris Smith, while the defense must replace linebacker Cameron Lawrence and the bash brothers in the secondary, Darius Slay and Jonathan Banks. The defense only returns five starters from a season ago; Benardrick McKinney and Nickoe Whitley are their only quality starters at their positions. Tyler Russell still hasn’t shown vast improvements since taking over at quarterback; the four interceptions thrown in the Gator Bowl are a microcosm of that. The best player on the team, All-SEC guard Gabe Jackson, makes up a veteran laden offensive line that will try to get the running game off the ground in 2013. Running back LaDarius Perkins needs to make his presence be known this season. Perkins didn’t break over 50 yards in any game against the big boys of the SEC.
It’s hard to believe that new defensive coordinator Geoff Collins and offensive coordinator Les Koenning will have enough pieces to the puzzle this year to pose a threat to the teams they have lost to consistently. Besides, that senior group that graduated never beat either LSU or Alabama in their days at Starkville.
The Bulldogs first opponent, Oklahoma State, is one of five ranked teams on their 2013 schedule. Also on the schedule is LSU, followed by three straight weeks against South Carolina, Texas A&M and Alabama. Don’t forget about the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss, which is not a guaranteed win for the Bulldogs anymore. The Auburn and Arkansas games are road games; with a loss to any one of them, the Bulldogs probably won’t go bowling. Mississippi State’s defense was atrocious against high-octane offenses similar to Auburn’s last season, giving up 693 total yards to Texas A&M, and 294 yards through the air to Bo Wallace. The Bulldogs are 2-6 in true road SEC games the last pair of seasons.
Bulldogs fans can expect a sluggish aftermath again this go-around.