Dan Mullen's Quest for a "Signature Win"


As many have said before – Dan Mullen has raised the floor for Mississippi State, just not the ceiling. He has done an excellent job of developing the football program to a point where beating non-bowl teams are not only expected, but almost always accomplished.

MSU football is in sort of in a weird place right now. We are good, but not very good. We are like a baseball player who hits .350 in AAA but when he gets called up to the major leagues he can’t get a hit.

Some folks argue that Mullen has already gotten a few signature wins: Georgia, Florida, Michigan. In fact, State has beat every SEC team other than LSU (0-4), Alabama (0-4), South Carolina (0-1) and Texas A&M (0-1) under Coach Mullen (no games vs. Missouri).

The problem with Mullen’s biggest wins is that none of those teams were able to finish higher than #20.

  • 2009 vs. #25 Ole Miss finished #20
  • 2010 vs. Georgia finished unranked
  • 2010 vs. #22 Florida finished unranked
  • 2010 vs. Michigan finished unranked
  • 2012 vs. Auburn finished unranked

I included last year’s win over Auburn because at the time it was a big win. But that’s the problem with Mullen’s biggest victories – they happen when that power program is rebuilding.

I like beating Tennessee, Arkansas and Auburn, no doubt. The thought of doing so no matter how bad their record during the Croom years was almost unthinkable – most certainly we couldn’t beat all three. But at the same time, when will be get over the next hurdle: beating a really good team?

Eventually that AAA baseball player is going to have to hit a little bit so he can stay up with the big league club at least as a bench player or the franchise is going to give up on him and he’ll be gone. The same could be said here – if State keeps getting a C+ every year, they aren’t giving A+ recruits much of a reason to come to Starkville, and eventually winning every game vs. weaker opponents is going to end – just ask Kentucky.

2013 needs to be a year where MSU is competing with upper-echelon teams until the end of games. The next step isn’t being great, it’s being very good. The Dawgs need to find a way to hang around in ballgames until the end – no more getting blown out by top 10 teams. You’ve got to be close if you want to have a chance to win (duh).

There were some close games in 2011, but 2012 took a step back in that area despite a better record. The ’13 schedule presents plenty of opportunities against quality teams (using Phil Steele’s projected AP Top 25):

  1. Aug. 31st vs. #22 Oklahoma State
  2. Oct. 5th vs. #12 LSU
  3. Nov. 2nd at #9 South Carolina
  4. Nov. 9th at #5 Texas A&M
  5. Nov. 16th vs. #1 Alabama

There’s 5 games against ranked teams plus at Auburn, vs. Arkansas and Ole Miss on the schedule – that’s a tough road. Even if MSU doesn’t beat the above 5 teams but is able to beat the ones in this paragraph I’m sure we’d all be ecstatic. But the measure to determine where our program is will be those 5 games.

Will Dan Mullen be able to get a signature win over a top 10-15 team in 2013? Moreover, will they stay at that ranking? If we somehow beat LSU they aren’t going to stumble to a 7-5 year are they?

First things first, let’s be competitive until the clock strikes 0:00 before getting hung up on beating Alabama. And the time for that is now – the 2013 Bulldogs need to be able to hang with the best even if we can’t beat them just yet. But at some point in the near future, Mullen and Co. need to find a way to get a signature win.