GATOR BOWL NOTEBOOK: Mullen believe State is the ‘green pasture’

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Dan Mullen sees no reason to leave Mississippi State, because like Scott Stricklin, he doesn’t believe in limitations.
If Mullen’s new four-year, $10.6 million contract said anything, it said that the second-year head coach truly believes what he says about winning championships in Starkville.
“I know a lot of people like to speculate that the grass is always greener (elsewhere),” Mullen said Friday. “I think we’re in a very green pasture and around great people with a great administration that we have the opportunity to stay at it for a long time and really build something special.”
MSU has only been to one SEC championship game, in 1998, but Mullen has stated from the outset that he believes this can be a program that consistently contends in arguably the strongest league in the country.
Stricklin, who’s been athletics director for less than a year, feels the same way.
“There’s no reason why we can’t be every bit as successful as other programs,” Stricklin said. “We need to take away the glass ceiling that we might have thought was there and strip away some of the barriers that we create. At Mississippi State, we can win championships, and that’s our goal.”
Stricklin recalled the days when “it seemed like every other school” was playing in a New Year’s Day bowl game. Today’s appearance in the Gator Bowl opposite Michigan is MSU’s first on Jan. 1 since the 1999 Cotton Bowl.
The new contract is a way of Stricklin affirming his belief in Mullen’s long-term viability at MSU.
“It’s something we wanted to do to show him the amount of confidence we had in him and what he’s doing,” Stricklin said. “It’s pretty remarkable where we’ve come in two years.”

Michigan’s QB issues
– Michigan learned Thursday night that backup quarterback Tate Forcier, a starter at one time last season, is ineligible for today’s game. That’s suddenly made it all the more important that starter Denard Robinson stay healthy.
Robinson has been banged up several times this year, and Forcier had to fill in, playing in eight games and passing for 597 yards and four touchdowns. The backup now will be freshman Devin Gardner, who’s trying to get a medical redshirt this season after battling a back injury.
Gardner is fully healthy, according to coach Rich Rodriguez, but he’d just as soon not use the 6-foot-4, 210-pounder.
“Our plan is to have Denard to play every snap on offense,” Rodriguez said.
There’s also uncertainty at kicker, where redshirt freshmen Seth Broekhuizen and Brendan Gibbons are vying for time. They’ve both struggled: Broekhuizen is 1 of 4 on field goals, while Gibbons is 3 of 9.
“It depends on what hash we’re on and what the distance is,” Rodriguez said. “I think the last couple of days have probably been the best they’ve kicked in our bowl preparation.”

McPhee back home
– It’s been a homecoming for MSU senior defensive end Pernell McPhee, who hails from Pahokee, Fla. He’s expecting 50-60 family members at today’s game, and he’ll get to face some old high school teammates who now play for Michigan.
Safety Brandin Hawthorne, receiver Martavious Odoms and tailback Vincent Smith all played with McPhee at Pahokee High School.
“We’re all good, close friends. We all hang out,” McPhee said. “It’s game time now, so we’re going to really be enemies on the field.”

Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or brad.locke@djournal.com.