The Mississippi State Bulldogs have a fever and more cowbell is not the prescription. Since Dan Mullen‘s tenure began in 2009, the Bulldogs have won more games than they have lost (36-28) but have failed to turn the corner in the SEC. Of those 28 losses, 24 of them come from SEC programs. The 2014 squad returns several starters on both sides of the ball, and these Bulldogs may be able to get the program over the hump.
The problem is that hump is the SEC West, arguably the toughest division in college football. Currently, Mullen is 0-5 against Alabama and LSU and 1-4 against Auburn, the lone win coming in 2012 when Auburn was beyond awful. The Bulldogs have lost at least four SEC games every year since 2009 and have never finished better than fourth in the division.
Beating Ole Miss regularly certainly factors into the temperature of Mullen’s hot seat in Starkville, but with the Rebels showing marked improvement on the field and in recruiting, Bulldog fans have to be getting antsy. Mullen needs to win the big games and in a hurry. Just getting by is not going to cut it if the Rebels turn the series around.
The 2014 schedule is a favorable one, as the hardest games appear weeks apart which gives Mississippi State time to prepare. The first three games are against weaker out-of-conference foes. Returning quarterback Dak Prescott will have time to tune up the offense and get on the same page with his backs and receivers, most notably Jameon Lewis.
Last season. Prescott amassed 1,940 yards passing and 23 touchdowns. Of those 23 touchdowns, 10 were through the air. Lewis was the favorite target, grabbing five touchdowns on 923 yards receiving. These two stars will lead the charge on offense, along with tight end Malcolm Johnson. All in all, eight starters return on the offensive side of the ball. They will need the practice as the meat of the schedule approaches.
The Bulldogs face LSU in Baton Rouge on Sept. 20, where they have been bulldozed in the last two meetings. The Tigers will have a new quarterback and lost a wealth of talent to the NFL, so Mississippi State could sneak in and win here. The defense returns eight starters, including defensive linemen Kaleb Eulls, Chris Jones and Preston Brown. If they can control the line of scrimmage and force LSU turnovers, Mullen could get his first signature win.
After a game with the Johnny Manziel-less Texas A&M Aggies, Auburn rolls into Starkville. The running attack of Gus Malzahn is tough to stop, but Tre Mason is gone to the NFL and the Tigers are not catching anyone by surprise now. Not to mention, Auburn plays LSU the week before. Couple that with a raucous crowd in Starkville and you could have the recipe for an upset.
Four weeks pass before the next big game takes place in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 15. The Bulldogs play Tennessee-Martin the week before, so the starters should be plenty rested when they kickoff in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama, on the other hand, plays LSU in Baton Rouge. See the pattern here? Mississippi State could not be more pleased with the way this schedule has worked out.
The annual Egg Bowl takes place two weeks later in Oxford. The Bulldogs have had the Rebels’ number for the last five years, but this season may be a different story. Ole Miss is not playing around anymore and are a dark horse to contend in the West. Bo Wallace will test the Bulldog defense with his arm and legs. Linebackers Bernardick McKinney and Matthew Wells and cornerbacks Jamerson Love and Justin Cox will have their hands full all day. Expect a tough, close game that could decide which Mississippi team unseats the traditional powers and heads to Atlanta.
Mississippi State usually beats the teams they should. In 2014 once again, that will not be an issue. This team must take advantage of the favorable schedule and snatch victories away from teams that have traditionally ruined their chances of becoming elite. The difference between 8-4 and 10-2 is simply a play or two away. Mullen can only hope that his veteran team responds and forgets the past.