Mullen Era begins with SEC-SWAC battle

STARKVILLE – So this is how the Dan Mullen Era begins.
Mississippi State’s football coach makes his debut on a day wrought with history and its residue.
– The Bulldogs are playing Jackson State at 2:30 p.m. on ESPNU, the first meeting between an SEC team and a team from the SWAC, the premier football league among historically black colleges.
– This weekend marks the beginning of the SEC’s 15-year, $3 billion contract with ESPN and CBS.
– Mullen replaced Sylvester Croom, who was the SEC’s first black head football coach but resigned after last season’s 4-8 finish.
Mullen came to Starkville after helping Florida become the first team to win two BCS championships in three years. His challenge, which truly begins today, is to rewrite MSU’s history on the gridiron.
The Bulldogs have had just one winning season since 2000, and they own just one SEC championship – 1941. They won the Western Division title in 1998.
History, however, hasn’t dampened Mullen’s enthusiasm or expectations. That attitude has trickled down to the players.
“[W]e have all the weapons we need in order to go to Atlanta this year, and I think that is very possible,” junior offensive tackle Derek Sherrod said.
Well, a trip to the SEC championship game might not happen this season. But Mullen expects to see progress from the outset, and what he wants most is effort. That’s the refrain he’s been singing since being hired in December.
The players seem to have embraced the message. They say they’re grasping Mullen’s spread option offense. The defense is itching to get after someone in a different colored jersey.
“I don’t think there’s nobody in the country that’s ready to play like I’m ready to play,” said senior linebacker Jamar Chaney. “It’s been a while since I’ve been out there, and all this hard work, what we went through in the spring, the summer, what we just went through in training camp, we’re just going to let it all loose Saturday.”
It’s an especially big day for Chaney. He hasn’t played at Scott Field since the 2007 season finale, a 17-14 win over Ole Miss. In the 2008 season opener, at Louisiana Tech, he broke his leg.
Chaney took a medical redshirt and has seen his second chance as a blessing.
Senior receiver Brandon McRae is thankful as well. He suffered an open tibia/fibula fracture in last year’s Egg Bowl, and it could have ended his career.
He’s still trying to get back to 100 percent, but the new energy brought by Mullen and the impending season seem to be helping.
“You feel it in the air, you feel it on campus,” McRae said. “Everything just feels good, and everybody’s excited and everybody’s ready.”

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

At A Glance
– Where: Davis Wade Stadium, Starkville.
– Kickoff: 2:30 p.m.
– Television: ESPNU.
– Radio: MSU network; XM Channel 200; Sirius Channel 215.
– Records: JSU 0-0, MSU 0-0.
– Series: First meeting.
– Coaches – JSU: Rick Comegy 21-14 (fourth year); MSU: Dan Mullen (first year).
– Statistical leaders (2008) – JSU: QB Tray Rutland 115-202-10, 1,423 yards, 7 TDs passing, 497 yards, 4 TDs rushing; RB Luther Edwards 111-445 yards, 7 TDs; WR Carlos Everett 16-304, 2 TDs; LB Marcus Jamison 61 tackles. MSU: QB Tyson Lee 153-260-5, 1,519 yards, 7 TDs; RB Anthony Dixon 197-869, 7 TDs; WR Brandon McRae 51-518, 3 TDs; LB K.J. Wright 72 tackles, 4 sacks.
– Trends: MSU’s previous three coaches – Sylvester Croom, Jackie Sherrill and Rockey Felker – all won their Bulldog debuts. … This is offensive coordinator Les Koenning’s second stint at MSU. He coached receivers and running backs under Felker from 1986-89. … State will be wearing maroon helmets for the first time since the 2003 season. Players wore white helmets under Croom. … MSU has lost six straight when failing to rush for at least 100 yards.
– Notes: Like all SWAC teams, JSU will wear No. 9 stickers on their helmets in remembrance of former Alcorn State QB Steve McNair, who was slain in July. … Senior LB Jamar Chaney, who broke his leg in last year’s season opener at Louisiana Tech, will step onto Scott Field for the first time since MSU’s 17-14 win over Ole Miss on Nov. 23, 2007. … JSU won the SWAC Eastern Division in 2008, then lost to Grambling State in the league title game, 41-9. … The only other D-I team JSU has faced was Southern Miss, losing 17-7 in 1987 and 55-7 in 2002.
– Summing it up: “If they were an out-of-state school, it’d be an interesting game. But I think what makes it a great game is the in-state rivalry part of it that’s added to the equation.” – MSU coach Dan Mullen
– Prediction: MSU 34, Jackson State 14.

Read more about college football in today’s edition of GameDay in the NEMS Daily Journal. THe Ole Miss preview will run Sunday on NEMS360.com before the Rebels game with Memphis.

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Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal