By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Up to this point, Dan Mullen has accomplished every reasonable goal he’s put out there for Mississippi State, and then some.
He’s created excitement. He’s brought in better talent to play in a better scheme. He’s filled Davis Wade Stadium. He’s won games, including a New Year’s Day bowl.
Mullen has revived a once stone-dead offense, turned a glorified fullback into an SEC-caliber quarterback, and put some actual SEC speed out on the field. He’s got people believing MSU can contend for a league title.
That’s all great. But let’s look at that last point: Contending for a league title. You’ve probably heard this stat before, and you’re going to hear it again: MSU is 2-8 against the SEC Western Division under Mullen, with both wins coming against Ole Miss.
When the Bulldogs take the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday in their SEC opener, against Auburn, it will be the time for this program to take its next step under Mullen. It’s time to start winning in the West, otherwise the SEC title talk is empty.
Anything short of that isn’t going to be good enough. Losing to Auburn on Saturday would be a huge setback, the first real stumble during the Mullen era.
Considering the fast track State has been on thanks to the ambitious Mullen, I think that’s a fair statement. MSU must start beating Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn and LSU. Not necessarily all in one year, but you’ve got to start somewhere, and for MSU that somewhere is Saturday in Auburn.
The players certainly understand this.
“I think that’s the next step for us,” senior tailback Vick Ballard said.
It’s set up nicely for MSU to take that next step. It enters Auburn as a touchdown favorite, and while LSU looked dominant against Oregon last week, the Bulldogs get that game at home next Thursday.
Mullen has the pieces to contend in the West, from that aforementioned quarterback – senior Chris Relf – to a power running game to a deep and experienced secondary, and so on.
In other words, there are few excuses for MSU not making a move. Now is the time.
On ESPN Radio’s Scott Van Pelt show on Wednesday, Mullen said he wants his players to “play this (game) as if it is a championship-style game.”
The third-year coach has talked a good game since arriving, and for the most part has backed it up. Beat Auburn, and people will start taking that championship talk a little more seriously.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.