By Logan Lowery
STARKVILLE – There have been plenty of changes for Dan Mullen during his five years at Mississippi State.
But one constant that Mullen has been able to count on so far is a matchup with Auburn to begin conference play. The two Western Division foes meet for the sixth consecutive season to start SEC play on Saturday.
Auburn has won all but one of those meetings, with three of those contests being decided by a touchdown or less.
“Every year since I’ve been here we’ve started with Auburn as our first conference game,” Mullen said. “That first game can really give you a big boost. I don’t think it defines the whole season for you but it certainly can give you a huge boost and push you on your way.”
The Tigers won 49-24 at home in Mullen’s initial season in 2009 before back-to-back nail-biters the next two years. Auburn left Starkville as 17-14 winners the following season en route to a national championship and stuffed former MSU quarterback Chris Relf at the goal line on the final play of the game preserving a 41-34 victory in 2011 on the plains.
The Bulldogs’ lone victory over Auburn under Mullen’s watch came last fall, when State held the Tigers to just 216 total yards and forced five turnovers in a 28-10 home victory in Gene Chizik’s final season.
Chizik’s offensive coordinator in 2009-11, Gus Malzahn, is now Auburn’s head coach after spending 2012 at Arkansas State.
Although Mullen has faced Malzahn’s offense three times in the past, he admits scheming against a new staff and personnel presents quite a challenge.
“Every year it’s something new with them,” Mullen said. “It certainly does make a difference looking at a whole new staffing. You can look at Arkansas State from last year or Auburn from three or four years ago or look at Southern Miss from last year or South Carolina from three or four years ago. But that’s not this year’s team to me. That’s what makes it hard because you want to look at this year’s team.”