The President will deliver his State of the Union address tonight. So what better time than now to talk about the state of MSU’s program? And by program, I mean football.
We’ve spent the last two weeks taking a look ahead to what Mississippi State’s 2012 team will look like, but this is more than that. This is an overall assessment of how things are progressing, or regressing, under Dan Mullen.
I am not Greg Byrne (who hired Mullen), or Scott Stricklin, but I can take my own stab at what Dan was brought to Mississippi State to do. And that is: (1) to increase excitement about State among the fans, (2) bring MSU back to the level of 1997-2000 when we were winning every year and competing for SEC West championships, and (3) to take State to another level by winning an SEC Championship and, in turn, a national championship.
For objective #1, Mullen has exceeded the expectation. Davis Wade has been sold out for 16 consecutive games dating back to November 2009 vs. Alabama. Prior to that game, there was only one sell out (2007 vs. Bama) since the stadium was expanded in 2002. A football-only practice facility is under construction and is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2012. Plans for stadium expansion are currently being drawn. Bulldog Club membership has reached 9,000. Spring football games have reached record levels. There is no doubt Dan Mullen has increased the excitement and enthusiasm of Mississippi State fans and alumni.
For objective #2, Mullen has not gotten there yet. In all fairness though, he has only been the coach for three years and the window I referred to was four years. Also, Jackie Sherrill was MSU’s coach for six years prior to that 4-year run. But so far the Dawgs are on a back-to-back winning season streak that looks to continue into next year. That isn’t at the level of competing for SEC West championships, but there is some progress in that area.
Under Mullen, State is 19-5 against un-ranked opponents. That’s pretty good, especially when you consider teams like Georgia in 2011 weren’t ranked when MSU played them. So he’s gotten the ‘beat the teams you’re supposed to’ down pat. Then Mississippi State is 2-12 vs. ranked teams in the last three years. That is the difference between contending for the Sugar Bowl and the Music City Bowl.
It’s not all bad in that area, and here’s why: Mississippi State is closer. No, they aren’t changing the rules of football to be more like horse shoes, but closer does count when you are building a program. From 2001-2008, MSU had an average margin of -20.9 vs. ranked teams. Under Mullen, the margin is -9.8. That is a lot closer. And you’ve got to be close before you can be a winner in those games vs. ranked teams.
For objective #3, complete #2 first.
Overall, the football program is in good shape. Three straight Egg Bowl victories and back-to-back bowl wins have given State something to hang their hat on…and that was missing for a long time. National signing day is next week, and it appears as though Mullen’s best class will be this one. The groundwork has been laid for a successful run, now the trick is to take the next step and beat ranked opponents. Things are looking good for Mississippi State!