STARKVILLE – Home has been much sweeter for Mississippi State this season.
From 2001-2009, the Bulldogs compiled a record of 23-35 at Davis Wade Stadium, only twice finishing a season above .500 at home (2007 and ’08).
This fall, MSU is 5-1 on the Scott Field turf, that lone loss a three-point setback to Auburn, which is currently ranked No. 2 in the nation. Winning home games is one of the basic tenets of success for second-year coach Dan Mullen.
“If you don’t dominate at home,” he said, “it’s going to be hard to become a top-notch program in this league.”
There are several reasons MSU is doing so well at home. The schedule’s been a little easier than last year, and Mullen has taken the program to a level where it’s capable of winning regardless of the venue.
But I’m pretty sure the fans deserve a good chunk of the credit. MSU is close to recording its 10th consecutive sellout, and it’s well on track to break the season attendance record that it set in 2009 – it drew 376,544 fans in Mullen’s first year and has so far drawn 328,589 through six games.
So State only needs 47,956 fans to walk through the gates Saturday to break that mark.
The game-day atmosphere in Starkville has changed dramatically under Mullen. During Sylvester Croom’s final season, MSU saw a total attendance of 260,716 in six games (43,453 per game).
Fifth-year senior J.C. Brignone, State’s starting center, has noticed the difference.
“I think our fans have been great this year,” he said. “What do you expect? When you win, people are going to be happy. I’ve been here, and I’ve been a Mississippi State fan, to know when the times are bad how bad it was. But I know the true fans that are here now and love it.
“Even the people that are jumping on and coming with us, they’re more than welcome, because you can’t beat winning, and you can’t beat having 60,000 people coming in there and cheering us on, and it makes us feel better.”
It’s an interesting dynamic at Davis Wade these days. Now that the cowbells aren’t allowed to be out in full force, the cumulative effect of all those people in the stands – official capacity is 55,082 – is somewhat muted.
Brignone has a frank opinion on that.
“I think that cowbell rule is kind of jacked up, because we only have 55,000 people in our stands,” he said. “When we go to play at Alabama, they have double that. I think our cowbells kind of equal it out a little bit, and I think teams do get a little frustrated with that. How do you think we feel when we go somewhere and they’ve got 101,000 people screaming and yelling?”
Saturday will be a big day for Brignone and all 22 of MSU’s seniors. Except for the junior college transfers, this group has seen the program come a long way.
“It’s kind of crazy to think five years ago I was a freshman and didn’t know if we were blowing or stuffed,” Brignone said, and I have no idea what that phrase means, but you get the picture, I guess. “This is my senior night, but then I’m like, it’s just another game. The only difference is my wife (Blair) and my child (Millie Lane) will be on the field, and I get to see them before the game.”
Perhaps this final game at DWS will give Brignone and the rest inspiration enough to overcome No. 13 Arkansas, which is a narrow favorite. The winner could wind up with a Cotton Bowl bid, and it puts a 10-win season within reach for the Bulldogs.
It would also give MSU six home wins for the first time since 1999, when it was 7-0. That just happened to be State’s last 10-win season.
“Coach Mullen’s definitely doing a good job of getting fans in here,” senior linebacker Chris White said, “and we’ve got to do our part and win.”
So far, that plan is working.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal