State of the Programs: Football


Nov 28, 2013; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott (15) advances the ball during the game against the Mississippi Rebels at Davis Wade Stadium. Mississippi State Bulldogs defeat the Mississippi Rebels with a score of 17-10 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Normally I would hold football off until last when doing a series like the one I am doing since it is the one that draws the most interest, but since the baseball team still has the SEC Tournament and Regionals, (and hopefully beyond) I decided to go ahead with football and hold off on baseball until their season is done.

On Field Performance

Dan Mullen has elevated the Mississippi State Football program. There isn’t any question about that. The Croom years saw one winning season mixed into lots of losing ones. Yes, there were occasional upsets, but the offense was as boring as they came, and getting beyond 20 points seemed like a miraculous feat. There was nowhere for the program to go but up.

Mullen finished his first year 5-7, but he used a 41-27 upset over rival Ole Miss to propel the team to greater success the following years. The team is coming off its fourth straight bowl appearance, the first time that has ever happened in the history of the program. Thanks to its dominant win over Rice in the Liberty Bowl, Mississippi State finished the season with an above .500 record for the fourth straight season, something that has only been accomplished two other times in the school’s history.

Despite the improvement in the product on the field, there is still room for growth. Mullen has a record of just 16-24 in the SEC. He has no real marquee wins against any of the upper tier schools in the SEC. The best win on the Mullen resume is either the 2010 win against Florida in Gainesville, or one one of his wins against Ole Miss. The 2009 win was significant because it showed that Mississippi State was beginning to improve, or you could take the one last year. Ole Miss had most everyone believing it was the far superior program in the state, and Mississippi State showed that it wasn’t ready to concede that title just yet.

What it has set up as we close out the 2013-14 Academic year is a team full of confidence and expectations for the 2014 team. The team has been recruited completely by Mullen. Most of last season’s production is returning. The center piece to all of the excitement is Dak Prescott, the dual threat quarterback who has some talking about a dark horse Heisman season. He is a dynamic offensive player that fits perfectly into Mullen’s offense that could lead Mississippi State to unprecedented heights offensively.

Even though the offense is expected to do more next season, the defense is what will carry the team. Despite early season struggles, the defense got better with each game throughout the season. Geoff Collins is credited with the success of putting these guys in places where they can make a play, and Scott Stricklin extended the Defensive Coordinator and got him a huge pay raise to convince him to stay in Starkville.

Grade: B+ We are obviously better than we have been historically, but there is still room for growth. Getting some big wins this year is an absolute must.


The one criticism that Mississippi State has been hit with in the time that Mullen has been at Starkville has been recruiting. Mullen’s recruiting classes have averaged a ranking of 30 nationally according to, but have always been toward the bottom of the SEC. That is better than what most coaches at Mississippi State have done, but they need to find a way to get closer to the top of the SEC teams.

Mullen has always said that they don’t pay attention to what others say about recruits, and that he and his coaching staff have their own evaluations, and they recruit the players they believe are playmakers. Depending on your perspective determines how you feel about that. If you are a believer in the star rating system, you consider that coachspeak and want to see better recruits coming to Starkville. If you don’t believe in the star rating system, you think Mullen has done a great job identifying players that can compete in the SEC.

Grade: C+ Mullen has lost some battles in the recruiting game. There is no question about that. There are some talented players that Mississippi State could have gotten but missed out on. On the flip side, Mississippi State is poised to have its best year under Mullen in 2014 and it is going to come on the backs of mostly 3 star rated players. If Mississippi State can surprise people with a season of nine or more wins, it will give Mullen more validation that how he and the rest of his staff evaluates players works.

Fans’ Perception

Mullen is a beloved figure by most Mississippi State fans. They love that he doesn’t back down from talking trash about Ole Miss. He has put a better product out on the field, and for that, enthusiasm is at an all time high. Expectations are soaring, and the stadium is almost always packed. The newest Davis Wade Stadium expansion will bring capacity to just above 61,000 and put Mississippi State much more in line with the rest of the SEC schools.

There is a small minority that doesn’t think that Mississippi State will take the next step under Mullen. They point to the lack of wins and mediocre recruiting as their evidence. Things were dicey for Mullen entering the Arkansas game as Mississippi State was 4-6 and needing to beat both Arkansas and Ole Miss to reach a bowl game. They did just that and helped silence any criticism that was being voiced about Mullen.

Grade: B There simply isn’t any question that Mullen has brought excitement back to the football program at Mississippi State. Fans love him, but they definitely want Mississippi State to take the next step. Fans are also much more fickle than they used to be. Anything less than 8 wins is going to be seen as a disappointment by most fans, and for many Bulldog fans, getting less than 9 will be seen as a wasted opportunity.


Grade: B The team is much better but 2014 sets up as a pivotal year for the program. Everything is lining up for Mississippi State to have the type of year that could change the narrative regarding our team. We have always been viewed as a program that typically sits at the bottom of the SEC with an occasional good year mixed in. If State can manage to win 9 or 10 games in 2014, then the conversation around our football program will be different. This is the year that we have to beat an elite program. It doesn’t have to be LSU or Alabama. With Texas A&M and Auburn coming to Starkville, State will have the opportunity to get some wins that will turn some people’s heads. The opposite is also true. Finishing the year with only 6 or 7 wins will be a major disappointment among the Bulldog fans and will keep the perception of the program as one that is okay, but not a real threat to the Alabamas and LSUs of the world. Mullen will still be the coach, but his reputation of not being able to win a big game will carry on. What lies ahead in 2014 will have a lot to say about the bigger picture of Mississippi State’s future.