Nov 29, 2014; Oxford, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen (L) talks to Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott (15) against the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The Rebels won 31-17. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports
It’s a strange week for college football fans. This is the week when conference’s that have enough schools for a conference championship prepare for the pinnacle event in their conference. The rest of us just sit around a twiddle our thumbs. We still don’t know our bowl destination, and there are no real important basketball games to discuss until later in the month, so why not to a quick peek towards next football season.
With six years of history, we now have some things that we can identify as trends since Mullen became the head coach. You may or may not have noticed these trends, but if you haven’t noticed, let me point them out. This is Mullen’s record in odd numbered years.
- 2009: 5-7 (3-5)
- 2011: 7-6 (2-6)
- 2013 7-6 (3-5)
- Winning Percentage: 50% Overall and 33% in SEC Play
In the even numbered years, Mullen has posted these records.
- 2010: 9-4 (4-4)
- 2012: 8-5 (4-4)
- 2014 10-2 (6-2)
- Winning Percentage: Overall 71% and 58.3% in SEC Play
So why has Mississippi State done so much better in the even numbered years? There could be a number of explanations, but I would place most of the emphasis for this trend on the schedule during these years.
When trying to break down the SEC schedule, Mississippi State plays 7 teams every year. The other six teams in the SEC West and Kentucky are always on the schedule. If you were to try to figure out which teams Mississippi State would have the best chance of beating, you’d probably go with Arkansas, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Auburn, and Texas A&M. The ones we would struggle the most against would likely be LSU and Alabama. The other East opponent would be a toss up. It just depends on who we draw each year.
So why does the schedule make a difference? In even numbered years, we always play LSU, Alabama, Ole Miss, and Kentucky on the road. Those same years we play Arkansas, Auburn, Texas A&M, and the other East school at home. Based on our recent history, beating LSU or Alabama is an almost ipossible task, whether or not we play them at home or on the road. Add in the recent Egg Bowl results, and playing Ole Miss is Oxford is almost always a loss. So in even numbered years, we almost always take a loss on the road against LSU, Alabama, and Ole Miss. Beating Kentucky hasn’t been a problem since Mullen took over. That gives us a much better chance to win against the other four teams since they are at home. In 2014, this scenario played out to a tee. We overcame the LSU hurdle but continued the trends of losing to Alabama regardless of the location and losing to Ole Miss at home. We beat the other three teams in the West that we played at home, and beat Vanderbilt (location wouldn’t have mattered in that one).
When the locations are reversed, it becomes much harder. Take 2013 for example. In 2013, we lost hard fought games against Auburn and Texas A&M. The other East opponent was a good South Carolina team that we were overmatched for on the road. Teams that we are much more evenly matched with traditionally enjoyed the added benefit of having home field advantage and won. LSU and Alabama continued their trend of beating us regardless of the location. Home field advantage held serve in the Egg Bowl, we beat Kentucky regardless of location, and broke through in a difficult game against Arkansas.
To continue the success of 2014 into 2015, State has two games at home they almost never win (LSU and Alabama) and four games that are toss ups on the road (Auburn, Texas A&M, Arkansas, and Missouri). If tradition holds, State should beat Ole Miss because the Egg Bowl will be in Starkville and Kentucky should be a win because we haven’t lost to them the past six years. To get to 10-2 or better again, Mississippi State has to find a way to beat LSU or Albama at home, and overcome the home field advantage Arkansas, Auburn, Texas A&M and Missouri will have. Mullen broke the trend of losing to LSU last year, so I think he can find a way to break the odd numbered trend in 2015.