Bulldogs in prime-time once again

STARKVILLE — Mississippi State players and head coach Dan Mullen hope its another one of those games — like the one against Florida.

Record-capacity crowd at Davis Wade Stadium. A raucous cheering section with plenty of cowbells. The national spotlight of ESPN honing in on Starkville.

All aspects of this game could describe what the Bulldogs showcased against the top team in the BCS, Florida.

That game took place three weeks ago, and despite the loss State came back to win at Kentucky before a bye week.

The Bulldogs returned to the practice fields on Monday refreshed and ready to go after one of the country’s best teams once again this time it’s the BCS’ No. 2-ranked Alabama team from just down U.S. Highway 82.

All sideshow items aside, to Mullen and the players this weekend’s 6 p.m. game will provide just one more opportunity for that elusive marquee win.

“We’re excited for this weekend, obviously, with the opportunity to play the best team in the country I know, give or take. What are they No. 2 right now (in the BCS), but they could just as easily be No. 1,” Mullen said at his Monday press conference.

Adding to the magnitude of this game is the position MSU has worked itself into. Despite not winning a game at home this season against Football Bowl Subdivision opposition — albeit a major reason for that fact is the strength of the Bulldogs’ home schedule — Mississippi State is two wins away from becoming bowl eligible.

The difficulty of that schedule could come back into play in that regard. The two wins the Bulldogs need for six this season will have to come out of three games to finish the season. That includes two games at home — Alabama and Ole Miss — sandwiched around a road game against Arkansas in Little Rock.

The mentality the team is taking into these kind of contests was best summed up by team captain and senior middle linebacker, Jamar Chaney.

“We’re just taking the mindset, like we’ve been told, of one game at a time,” Chaney said. “We’re in the playoffs now, because it’s at the point now that if we lose it’s pretty much done. “But every week from now on is a must-win game. Alabama this week is a must-win game.”

MSU will go into this contest with a record of 4-5 overall and 2-3 in the Southeastern Conference. Alabama remains undefeated at 9-0 overall and 6-0 in the SEC.

Last week, the Crimson Tide defeated LSU to earn the SEC West’s spot in the conference championship game versus Florida in Atlanta. With that kind of Alabama team coming to Scott Field — where it lost the last time it played there — Mullen is hoping for the same kind of atmosphere that was apparent against Florida is there once again to greet the Bulldogs.

“It’s a great opportunity for us. We’ve had that opportunity before. I know all our fans came through to give us an electric atmosphere, an unbelievable environment and we’re expecting the same thing this weekend,” Mullen said.

Still, the broader objective remains — despite the importance of the game ahead — to earn a trip to a bowl game. That is what players like Chaney will be hoping to accomplish by starting that process with a win over a rival from across the state line.

“Everybody here wants to go to a bowl game. We don’t want to be sitting there, watching everybody else during a bowl game, so we got to make we win these last few games if we’re going to make sure we’re going to get into one,” Chaney said.

Aaron Seidlitz/Starkville Daily News