Dan Mullen Needs to Get the November Monkey Off His Back


Oct 24, 2015; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen talks into his headset during third quarter of the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Davis Wade Stadium. Mississippi State won 42-16 Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Dan Mullen’s career as a head coach at Mississippi State has been mostly about taking incremental steps toward building a stellar football program at Mississippi State. It started off with a quick burst. In 2009 and 2010 saw Mullen and the Bulldogs outperform most people’s expectations of what the team could accomplish those seasons. Then Mullen’s progression as a coach was much more gradual.

In 2013, Dan Mullen became the first coach in Mississippi State history to lead the Bulldogs to four consecutive bowl appearances. He followed that up in 2014 by leading the Bulldogs to 10. Mullen was only the third coach in school history to win 10 games in a season, and he became the first to do it in the regular season. 2014 also saw Mullen get his first victory over a team ranked in the AP Poll Top 10.

As we sit here on November 1, 2015, Mullen now has a new step to climb in his progression as a coach. In the previous six years, Mississippi State has posted a 10-14 record in the month of November, a 41.67% winning percentage. In all other months, Mullen has led the Bulldogs to a 36-17 record, a 67.92% winning percentage. Dan Mullen must get the November monkey off his back.

Dawg Smack talked about how November will determine how Mississippi State fans remember the 2015 season. And he’s right. Though it is a long shot, Mississippi State can go anywhere from finishing at the top (with a little help) of the division with a perfect November, to a 6th or 7th place finish if the Bulldogs don’t win a single game this month. If you want to know why people don’t spend a ton of time talking about the steps forward Mississippi State made last season, it’s because the Bulldogs came up short in the month of November.

November of 2014 wasn’t a complete loss. It was the first time Dan Mullen had posted a winning record in the month as the head coach. Mississippi State went 3-2 in November last season, but the argument can easily be made it had more to do with the competition than any actual progress as a program. Mississippi State’s wins in November of 2014 came against UT-Martin, Arkansas, and Vanderbilt, with only Arkansas being considered a quality opponent. The two losses still sting most fans to this day. The Bulldogs lost to Alabama, a game if they had won would have given Mississippi State the Western Division title, and against Ole Miss, which killed any tiny hopes Mississippi State had of making it to the college football playoff.

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  • November in 2015 does not get any easier for the Bulldogs and Dan Mullen. According to Bill Connelly at SB Nation, Mississippi State should win easily against Missouri (73.1%),  lose decisively to Alabama (34.6%), and have toss up games against Arkansas and Ole Miss (48.9% and 45.8% respectively). ESPN’s FPI projects Mississippi State’s November to be pretty much the same. Handle Missouri easily (70.9%), lose to Alabama (40.0%), and have toss ups with Arkansas and Ole Miss (49.5% and 44.6% respectively).

    But this is the next step for Mississippi State. Too many people wanted and expected a Western Division Championship after the 9-0 start in 2014. If the Bulldogs would have pulled such a feat off, they would have skipped a few steps in their progression. And Dan Mullen hasn’t taken huge leaps as a coach, just gradual steps in building a program. The next step toward building Mississippi State into an SEC West contender is to win November in 2015.

    The Bulldogs could go 2-2 this November, and the 2015 season would be considered as a nice season. Anything worse and it will be viewed as a lost opportunity to post consecutive great seasons at Mississippi State for Dan Mullen.

    But if Coach Mullen can lead the Bulldogs to a 3-1 month or possibly even go 4-0, then Mullen will have done exactly what he needed to do in 2015 after the wildly successful 2014. It won’t be easy, but nothing worth having ever is.