If you’re a frequent reader of M&WN you know I am a proponent of ‘playing to a standard’. Nick Saban is undeniably the best coach in the country so at least some form of his “process” has to hold water for every program. If you’re holding yourself to a standard of excellence then you are fighting the human urge we all have: to do the minimum to get by. Right now, Mississippi State football is doing the minimum. The absolute, bare bones minimum it can do.
I’ve heard the arguments –
- “we are so much better than we used to be”
- “at least we beat teams we should”
- “I like this a lot better than 3 wins per year”
Yeah, yeah, I got that. I was there for Croom. As in I was in college for the 2nd worst era of MSU football ever (the worst was 14 wins from 1964-1969). We didn’t even average 3 wins per year when I was in school because I was also there for a 2-10 season in Jackie Sherill’s last year. I know what it’s like to lose, and lose big. I even took it on the chin for a 5th year of school in 2006. I’m not a new fan and I didn’t go to school in the late 90s or early 80s when times were good. I know MSU’s past, but this is about the here and now.
The plain, simple fact of the matter is that the SEC has raised the floor for Mississippi State. Just by osmosis we have been able to elevate our resources and recruiting to put ourselves in a position to where beating Conference USA and Sun Belt schools is expected like the sun coming up each morning.
Look at the heart of the Croom era (2006) when Mississippi State’s athletic budget was $25 million. Fast forward to the heart of the Mullen era (2011) when MSU’s budget doubled to $51 million (source). The SEC’s TV contract has brought in tons of new money to the program. That has allowed us to build better facilities on par with the big boys and separate us from the lower tier conferences.
The SEC has won seven straight national championships and is the undisputed best conference in college football. The league has always had the best recruits, but now the gap between the SEC and everyone else is even larger. Here is the gap in recruiting point totals between the SEC and the 2nd place league from the last 12 years, via Scout.com:
- 2002: 74 average points per team > Big 12
- 2003: 209 > ACC
- 2004: 51 > ACC
- 2005: 52 > ACC
- 2006: 325 > Pac 10
- 2007: 664 > Pac 10
- 2008: 238 > Pac 10
- 2009: 786 > Pac 10
- 2010: 282 > Pac 10
- 2011: 775 > Big 12
- 2012: 462 > Pac 12
- 2013: 748 > Big Ten
As you can see, up until the SEC’s streak of national titles the league did not have as big of a stranglehold on recruiting as it has the last 5-6 years. Not only can SEC teams pluck players away from lower tier conference schools, but now they can do so from other BCS conference programs because players want to be in the SEC, which is seen as the step just below the NFL. MSU has been the beneficiary of this, and has enabled us to get into the top 25 of recruiting rankings a couple of times.
Let’s take a look at the teams Mullen has beat that finished their season with a winning record (I’m not counting FCS):
- Middle Tennessee State, 2009
- Kentucky, 2009
- Ole Miss, 2009
- Florida, 2010
- Michigan, 2010
- Louisiana Tech, 2011
- Middle Tennessee State, 2012
BCS teams are in bold. Just four of them. Just seven overall, and only two over the last two full seasons. In 2013, it looks like Troy (5-4) and Bowling Green (5-3) will probably finish with winning records. But those aren’t SEC, or even BCS teams.
Coach Mullen’s record at MSU is 33-26. So seven of the wins have come against teams with winning records (possibly nine). That means he has 24 to 26 wins vs. teams who ended their season with a losing record or were a FCS team. Here’s a breakdown of his record vs. different categories of teams:
- vs. FCS: 5-0
- vs. FBS non-BCS: 12-1
- vs. BCS non-conference: 2-3
- vs. SEC: 14-22
- vs. SEC teams not named Kentucky or Ole Miss: 6-21
So Mississippi State during the Mullen era has taken the resources provided by being in the SEC and the recruiting advantage provided by being in the best league to raise its floor from a program that struggles to beat lower tier conference teams to one that does beat them, and even beats the worst of the SEC as well. If that’s not doing the minimum, then I don’t know what is.
I don’t have an agenda to get Dan Mullen fired, but I do want to see more than what we’re getting right now. In year 5 – a year in which the consensus was MSU had more talent and depth than ever before under Mullen – the Bulldogs are still struggling to beat mediocre teams and getting blown away by good ones. In each of the last four years State has struggled to beat a lower-tier school: UAB in 2010, La Tech in 2011, Troy in 2012 and Bowling Green in 2013. Is it because MSU is more on par with those type of programs or are we a mid-level SEC program like we all want to believe? After all the SEC has done for us, are we still not to the level of beating these teams handily?
Is this the best MSU can do, or is it the minimum? If you think this is the best Mississippi State can do, then you’ve resigned yourself to accepting mediocrity and being in the cellar of the SEC West, hoping for a mid-level bowl game when all the cards line up just right. If you think Mississippi State can do better, and deserves to do better, then you’ve got a winning attitude that needs to be at the forefront of our fanbase. I’m not saying that if you believe in Mullen you harbor a loser’s mentality, but hopefully everyone sees the product on the field is not acceptable, and the buck stops at Mullen’s desk.