By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State has arrived at its crossroads sooner than I expected.
I’d rather y’all forget, but I predicted a 5-7 finish for the Bulldogs this season. Well, now they’re 5-2 (2-2 SEC) heading into this week’s homecoming game against UAB.
Oh, and State is No. 24 in the nation in the Associated Press poll, the USA Today coaches poll, and the BCS rankings.
And while coach Dan Mullen runs an offense with the potential for great fireworks, MSU right now is nothing more than your typical SEC team that likes to run, run, run and play stingy defense.
That formula was good enough to beat a flailing Florida team, and it should be good enough to get MSU to a bowl game.
Will this last, though? Have the Bulldogs actually reached the point in their development under Mullen where they are to be taken seriously by everyone, every week?
Or is this fool’s gold? Remember the last time MSU was ranked, early in the 2001 season? A five-game losing streak and 3-8 record ensued.
The older players don’t seem to think they’ve arrived just yet.
“We’re 5-2, but we were 5-7 last year. We can quickly lose five games,” senior center J.C. Brignone said. “We can’t just coast on 5-2 and be happy, because we’d be basically the same thing as last year. We’re looking to be 10-2, so we have to start with 6-2, and that’s what we’re looking for.”
Mullen was asked Wednesday if he could measure the progress this team has made since he took over.
“That’s hard to say,” he said. “Maybe I’ll know more at the end of the season where we would be. There’s an awful lot of football to be played.”
Hurdle of youth
There’s two ways to look at this. One, MSU is young, so there’s plenty of room to grow, which means this could be just the start of something greater.
Two, MSU is young, and it could fall apart quickly during this back half of the season, because young people aren’t historically great at handling success.
There is always a psychological barrier to overcome when you start winning. It’s an even greater barrier for young players. Mullen’s keeping a close eye on that, because UAB is just good enough to screw this up for State.
I imagine it’s tough not to let the good feelings from Gainesville linger a little too long in the psyches of players not yet used to success at this level.
“Everything is a distraction for young guys,” Mullen said, “because a lot of times it’s their first (time), or they’re inexperienced in doing it, and it’s just keeping them, making sure they’re always focused on the preparation of what they have to do and take care of themselves and their position group to win.”
So I return to my original observation: MSU is at a crossroads at least a year sooner than I expected. I don’t foresee 5-7 this season, nor do I think MSU will reach Brignone’s goal of 10-2.
It’ll be somewhere betwixt those two extremes.
I do think that the potential is there for the Bulldogs to make a major step forward. I mentioned the 2001 slide, but that was a completely different situation. That was a program that was on the verge of a swift decline.
This program appears to be on the rise, but it hasn’t really risen that high just yet.
“We’re just getting started,” sophomore receiver Chad Bumphis said. “We’ve got so much work to be done.”
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.