Nov 29, 2014; Oxford, MS, USA; A Mississippi State Bulldogs helmet rest on the sidelines against the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The Rebels won 31-17. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports
Bulldog fans are waking up this morning with a lot of mixed emotions. There are a lot of things to really like about the 2014 football season.
- Beating LSU in Death Valley
- Winning three straight over LSU, Texas A&M, and Auburn
- Being ranked number 1 for five weeks
- Being in the thick of the playoff hunt until the final week of the regular season
- Having a legitimate Heisman trophy contender
- Winning 10 games in the regular season for the first time ever
- We will go to the best bowl game we have ever gone to in all likelihood
On the flip side, you are probably also really upset about some things.
- Once the team reached number 1, they played tight
- We lost the most important game in the history of our program at Alabama
- Our playoff dreams were ended by Ole Miss
So how do we handle this? How do we process these conflicting emotions? It’s new ground for Mississippi State and our fans. There is only one way to really handle it. We have to use this year to make our team elite.
Mississippi State reached the number 1 ranking for the first time ever. As a result, many fans had lofty dreams and expectations, and they had every reason to believe that there was hope for becoming one of the best teams in college football. They entered the Egg Bowl with a chance to make that step. Everything was lined up for them. The Rebels had an ailing quarterback. They Rebels had no run game to speak of. Their best playmaker on offense wasn’t playing. Knowing all that, it’s hard to believe the defense didn’t come out of the locker room in the second half.
The one thing that we have to remember is that it is rare that a team makes the leap from also ran to National Champion. Oregon has one of the most meteoric rises in all of college football. Up until the early part of this century, Oregon had been a mediocre team in college football. They had one or two good seasons before that, but not much more. Now they are one of the teams in contention for the National Championship every year, but they still haven’t won it. These things come in steps.
2014 can serve as the year that we jump started our entrance to the national stage. Mississippi State can use this season as a springboard to bigger and brighter days. It won’t be easy, but it can be done. The defense is losing a lot of starters this year, but despite the reserves, or “1bs”, getting the brunt of opposing offenses best shots, they received a lot of significant playing time that can only make them better next year. The offense is losing a lot on the offensive line, but the reserves saw significant playing time as well. It’s possible that Dak might jump to the NFL, but I don’t think it is likely. So the opportunity to become great is there.
If State falls back to a 6 or 7 win team next year, then 2014 becomes a blip on the radar. Dan Mullen proved that you can win with underrated talent. He proved that it is possible to win in Starkville. The next challenge he faces is to prove that what he did in 2014 can be done consistently at Mississippi State. Mullen has elevated the expectations since he arrived as the head coach at Mississippi State, and he took them to a completely other level in the atmosphere in 2014. It’s up to him to make the most of it.
2014 presents a fork in the road for the Bulldogs. One path leads to being an elite team and competing for SEC West titles and national championships. The other path leads to 2014 being a real nice story, but the Bulldogs going back to their usual place of 6 or 7 wins and making it to a bowl game and all the fans are hunky dorey. This was always going to be the case in 2014. Losing the Egg Bowl didn’t change that. The only thing it might change is our perceptions on how likely we are to head down the first or second path. Maybe you’re okay with that second path. But I had a taste of greatness this year, and I’m not ready to go back.