BRAD LOCKE: Mississippi State has earned respect of the magazine world

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Know what I love about summer time? Besides the oppressive heat and having spiders move into my bedroom, of course.
The arrival of summer means I can count down to the start of the college football season without rational, level-headed people (read: not college football fans) looking at me totally sideways.
And for the record: It’s 70 days until Mississippi State’s season opener at Memphis.
Summer is also a time for sitting in my air-conditioned, spider-infested abode and obsessively study preseason magazines like Athlon (ahem, I wrote the MSU preview for them) and Phil Steele. You could get both by dropping a $20 bill at your local bookstore, with change left over.
Did you know the 328-page Phil Steele mag can be used to kill a man? It’s the most accurate weapon on the market.
Between the preseason mags and the Internet, I’ve digested a good bit of info about what the nation thinks of MSU, and here’s what I’ve concluded: The nation isn’t really sure what to think of MSU.
The Bulldogs surprised a lot of people last season by going 9-4 and stomping Michigan in the Gator Bowl. They finished with a national ranking of 15th in the Associated Press poll.
The nation says that’s great and all, but then the nation remembers that MSU plays in the toughest division in college football. The popular opinion, and the one expressed by both Athlon and Steele, is that State will finish fourth in the SEC Western Division, behind Alabama, LSU and Arkansas.
That’s a safe pick.
Athlon has the Bulldogs at No. 27 in its preseason national rankings, while Steele has them at No. 36. Athlon predicts a 7-5 record for State, and while Steele didn’t predict a record, he said it’s hard to see MSU topping last year’s nine wins.
In a vacuum, the natural expectation among the MSU faithful would be of a continued progression in the wins column under Dan Mullen. From 4-8 in Sylvester Croom’s final season to 5-7 in Mullen’s first to 9-4 last year – well, certainly 10 or more wins are in the offing, right?
Most MSU fans I’ve run across are reasonable and tempered in their expectations, the product, no doubt, of recent struggles. (And, I’m sure many MSU folks would tell you, also the product of a natural humility borne of the school’s agrarian roots).
They understand that winning even four games in the SEC, which would match last season’s total, will be tough. Matching last year’s record will be tough.
As Steele wrote, “This year they have a schedule which will either produce greatness or disappointment.” He thinks which way MSU’s season swings pretty much depends on how it does against Alabama, LSU and South Carolina – all home games.
But what’s important more than the prognostications is the respect MSU has garnered under Mullen. Steele admitted to being surprised by the Bulldogs last season, writing, “Mullen is doing wonders here.”
Athlon listed State as a dark-horse candidate for the BCS title, while admitting it sounds far-fetched. “But this time last year, so did Auburn,” the mag noted.
MSU’s not a pushover any more, and if the summer experts know anything, they know that much.
Brad Locke (brad.locke@journalinc.com) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.