STARKVILLE – Urban Meyer insists it won’t be a big deal going up against his protégé, Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, today at Davis Wade Stadium.
It’s sure a big deal for Mullen and the Bulldogs, though, for several reasons:
– The Gators (6-0, 4-0 SEC) come in ranked No. 1 in the BCS standings, No. 1 in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll, and No. 2 – behind Alabama – in the AP poll. They’re the defending national champs.
– Florida has 2007 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow at quarterback.
– MSU (3-4, 1-2) has never hosted a No. 1 team in Starkville.
– And of course, the game will be in prime time on ESPN.
“Erin Andrews shows up on your campus to cover a game, you’re playing in the game of the week,” Mullen said of the popular ESPN sideline reporter.
It is indeed a big game for MSU, although that has largely been lost amid all the chatter about Mullen’s relationships with Meyer and Tebow. He coached with Meyer for 10 years, eight of them as an underling when Meyer built his reputation upon the success of his spread offense.
And it’s well-documented how close Mullen and Tebow are personally.
Meyer said none of that talk penetrates the Florida football bubble.
“There’s no emphasis on Dan Mullen,” he said. “It’s the team, it’s the players, it’s the quarterback that gets them out of trouble and makes plays, it’s the good kick returner.”
Mullen himself has tried to downplay his past connections, instead focusing upon the game itself.
MSU sold extra standing room-only tickets in hopes of drawing a record crowd, and Mullen has used the word “upset” more than once this week.
“We have the whole state of Mississippi getting excited, coming to cheer us on to hopefully pull a big upset,” he said.
Maybe not the whole state, but if the Bulldog fans can pack out Davis Wade, it would be one of the few edges MSU will have today. That, and history, for what that’s worth: Florida has lost in each of its last four trips to Starkville.
Its last win here came in 1985, when Galen Hall was the Gator coach.
“This is what the SEC game’s all about,” MSU cornerback Maurice Langston said. “This is what I live for, just to come out here and be a witness to all this.”
Considering the opponent and level of exposure, a lot of eyes will be on MSU tonight. Pulling the upset would be a huge step for a team that’s already taken one top-10 team, LSU, to the wire and lost a couple of other tight ones.
“It’s the showcase game, to show you can play with the best,” MSU tailback Anthony Dixon said. “We’re really getting fired up.”
Brad Locke: 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tonight’s game at a glance
– Where: Davis Wade Stadium, Starkville.
– Kickoff: 6:30 p.m. n Television: ESPN.
– Radio: MSU network; XM Channel 199, Sirius Channel 215.
– Records: Florida 6-0 (4-0 SEC), MSU 3-4 (1-2).
– Rankings: Florida No. 1 BCS, No. 1 ESPN/USA Today, No. 2 AP; MSU is unranked.
– Series: Florida leads 32-18-2.
– Last meeting: Florida won 35-9 in Gainesville in 2005. The Gators have not won in Starkville since 1985, going 0-4 since then.
n Coaches – Florida: Urban Meyer, 89-17 overall (ninth year), 50-9 at Florida (fifth year).
– Statistical leaders – Florida: QB Tim Tebow 47-71-2, 607 yards, 3 TDs passing, 84-306, 3 TDs rushing; RB Jeff Demps 41-268, 2 TDs rushing; TE Aaron Hernandez 20-242, 1 TD; LB Brandon Spikes 25 tackles, 3 sacks. MSU: QB Tyson Lee 87-149-6, 981 yards, 3 TDs; RB Anthony Dixon 134-696, 7 TDs; WR Chad Bumphis 23-267, 3 TDs; DE Pernell McPhee 29 tackles, 6 TFL, 2.5 sacks.
– Trends: Florida is 4-3 under Meyer when trailing at the half. It trailed Arkansas 10-3 last week. … Florida had made at least one interception in 17 consecutive games before getting none against Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett. … MSU’s turnover margin in its three wins this year is plus-eight; in the four losses, it’s minus-12. … MSU has held four of its seven foes to under 100 yards rushing.
– Notes: Florida ranks first in the country in both scoring defense (8.67 ppg) and passing efficiency (167.25 rating). … The Gators are second in passing efficiency defense (86.11 rating), total defense (228.3 ypg) and pass defense (133.3 ypg). … MSU ranks 13th in the nation in rushing offense (219.0 ypg). Dixon is 10th at 116.0 ypg.
– Summing it up: “You want to build a championship program, there’s nowhere better to start than having to face the champions and seeing how we do against them.” – MSU head coach Dan Mullen
– Prediction: Florida, 28-13.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal