2013 Mississippi State football's 10 things to know: If you're not moving forward...

Butch Dill

Dan Mullen has taken Mississippi State to three straight bowls, something that hadn't happened since the 1990s (and, before that, hadn't happened at all). But his team has regressed for two straight years; can a seasoned squad begin to turn things back around against a schedule that isn't quite as back-loaded? For more Bulldogs, visit Mississippi State site For Whom the Cowbell Tolls.

Confused? Check out the glossary here.

1. The "Settling for mediocrity!" stage

It happens to every successful coach at some point. Hell, it probably happened to Nick Saban when Alabama was only going 10-3 in 2010. You raise the bar for a given program higher than it has been for a while, but people get a little bit impatient when you fail to continue raising it. You could be a couple of 7-6 seasons away from full-fledged Glen Mason Territory.

Back in my blogger infancy, i coined a term called Glen Mason Territory to describe when a coach achieves at a higher-than-normal level at a given school (probably a second-tier BCS program that hadn't won in a while before he showed up) but cannot ever break through to the next level; he keeps making bowl games and winning, say, 6-8 games a year, but fans begin to get impatient. The crazies begin to start yelling things like "settling for mediocrity!" on talk radio and message boards, season ticket sales begin to fade, and even the rational fans in the base (the SB Nation readers, naturally) begin to start wondering if a change is needed.

Now, Dan Mullen is not there yet, not by any stretch of the imagination.

The fifth-year Mississippi State head coach inherited a hot mess of a program from Sylvester Croom (on offense, at least), surged to 9-4, finished 15th in the AP Poll in 2010 (30th in the F/+ rankings), and ended the Rich Rodriguez era at Michigan with a 52-14 massacre of the Wolverines in the Gator Bowl. The Bulldogs began the next season ranked 20th and got as high as 16th in September but finished just 7-6 (thanks in part to a schedule that featured built-in wins over Memphis, UAB, UT-Martin, and Ole Miss) and fell to 49th in the F/+ rankings. In 2012, after a schedule-aided 7-0 start -- the wins: Jackson State, the worst Auburn team in decades, Troy (barely), South Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Middle Tennessee -- the Bulldogs rose to 13th in the polls despite not actually being very good. And then reality struck: MSU lost five of six and not only finished 8-5 but ranked just 62nd in F/+, 12th in the conference.

In terms of location (Starkville is lovely and fun, but it's small and in the middle of nowhere, even compared to other middle-of-nowhere SEC towns), history (MSU is the only program in its division to not own a national title), the size of the fanbase, etc., this proud program faces a lot of adversity in comparison to its SEC West rivals.

In the last 108 years, the Bulldogs have won eight games or more in a season just 17 times. So the fact that Mullen has pulled off that feat twice in three years means something. But don't tell me that local radio and old-school, local letters-to-the-editor haven't featured the phrase "settling for mediocrity" in recent months. Hell, I heard it in Oklahoma City in 1999 regarding Bob Stoops and Oklahoma, 12 months before he won a national title. You know State fans are probably getting a little bit impatient with the backslide in quality, whether they should or not. It doesn't take long.

In 2013, Mississippi State won't be done any favors by the schedule. There is still cake on the schedule (Alcorn State, Troy, Kentucky, and no, I'm not including Bowling Green, because I think the Falcons will actually be pretty damn good this year), but by the first week in October, the Bulldogs will have already faced two potential Top 10 teams in Oklahoma State and LSU.

Will this experienced squad be ready for the challenge?

More: This is No. 56 in Bill Connelly's team preview countdown. Catch up on the rest here.

2012 Schedule & Results

Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 9-4 | Final F/+ Rk: 62
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
1-Sep Jackson State 56-9 W 25.6 - 30.5 L
8-Sep Auburn 28-10 W 31.0 - 16.5 W
15-Sep at Troy 30-24 W 30.5 - 32.7 L
22-Sep South Alabama 30-10 W 29.6 - 29.6 W
6-Oct at Kentucky 27-14 W 28.2 - 19.1 W
13-Oct Tennessee 41-31 W 27.4 - 27.5 L
20-Oct Middle Tennessee 45-3 W 38.6 - 14.8 W
27-Oct at Alabama 7-38 L 37.0 - 28.9 W
3-Nov Texas A&M 13-38 L 32.9 - 31.8 W
10-Nov at LSU 17-37 L 41.8 - 32.6 W
17-Nov Arkansas 45-14 W 39.3 - 24.0 W
24-Nov at Ole Miss 24-41 L 24.1 - 34.4 L
1-Jan vs. Northwestern 20-34 L 24.2 - 21.2 W
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 29.5 60 23.3 34
Adj. Points Per Game 31.6 41 26.4 49

2. Getting better, but not better enough

A quick refresher: the goal of Adj. Score is to tell you how a team might have performed in a given week versus a perfectly average team with a perfectly average number of breaks and bounces. If you play well against a good team and lose, you'll probably get an "Adjusted Win." If you play poorly against a bad team and win, you'll probably get an "Adjusted Loss."

It is important to mention this because it's quite possible that Mississippi State was a much better team while losing games down the stretch than it was while starting undefeated.

Adj. Points Per Game (first 6 games): MSU 28.7, Opponent 26.0 (plus-2.7)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 7 games): MSU 34.0, Opponent 26.8 (plus-7.2)

Mississippi State improved a bit, but not enough to account for a backloaded schedule that featured teams with double-digit wins in the last six games.

Despite the aesthetic value (or lack thereof), the fact that MSU did improve late is a good sign heading into 2013; the Bulldogs were inexperienced in basically every unit other than the receiving corps and secondary. Those two units took some hits, but MSU will put a pretty experienced, veteran squad on the field this fall.

Offense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 80 46 46 47
RUSHING 84 47 39 46
PASSING 59 52 52 50
Standard Downs 64 55 67
Passing Downs 22 30 18
Redzone 41 61 30
Q1 Rk 70 1st Down Rk 28
Q2 Rk 36 2nd Down Rk 32
Q3 Rk 67 3rd Down Rk 93
Q4 Rk 4

3. For an offensive guy…

...Mullen has been slow to get MSU up to speed on the offensive end. He inherited a unit that ranked 105th in Off. F/+ in 2008 and has improved things, but only so much. MSU improved 61st in 2009 but has ranked only 68th, 80th, and 72nd in the last three years.

Mullen clearly established his tactical bona fides through the years under Urban Meyer, but he hasn't quite been able to put the right pieces in place in Starkville. He needs a mobile quarterback, and while Tyler Russell isn't immobile, he gains his rushing yards (on about two carries per game) via the element of surprise. Mullen needs an explosive running back who can scare the defense into over-compensating and open up the quarterback keeper on the zone read; and while LaDarius Perkins is steady and durable, he's not very explosive. Mullen needs a dynamic receiving corps of players who can operate well in space and turn every short pass into a game-breaking-punt-return type of situation; and while he had a game breaker in Chad Bumphis last year, Bumphis is gone now. Russell's top four targets are all gone, actually.

With a well-seasoned line (five players with starting experience, 95 career starts from a line that was Top 30 in both run blocking and pass protection) and a solid backfield -- one that might be deeper in 2013 if youngsters like Josh Robinson, Derrick Milton, or even fresh man Ashton Shumpert take enough of a leap to steal some of Perkins' carries -- the MSU run game should be stellar. But some young receivers will need to quickly establish a strong rapport with Russell to make sure that progression in the run game isn't met with equal regression in the passing game.

Tyler Russell. Butch Dill, Getty.

4. Better game plans?

You often see offenses or defenses that are much stronger in Q1 and Q3 than in Q2 and Q4, or vice versa. I tend to think of the good Q1/Q3 teams as having great game plans but lacking either in depth or the ability to adjust to opponent adjustments. Meanwhile, I think of Q2/Q4 teams as the opposite -- iffy game plans, solid adjustments or depth.

Now, this is admittedly a shaky, porous theory; but it's immediately what came to mind when I saw that State was below average in Q1 and Q3, good in Q2, and great in Q4. The Bulldogs dug themselves some holes on offense and weren't able to overcome them with later-half adjustments.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards Comp
Rate
TD INT Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Tyler Russell 6'4, 220 Sr. **** (5.8) 231 394 2,897 58.6% 24 10 18 4.4% 6.7
Dak Prescott 6'2, 230 So. *** (5.6) 18 29 194 62.1% 4 0 1 3.3% 6.3
Cord Sandberg 6'3, 205 Fr. **** (5.9)







5. A little bit of passing downs magic

Despite poor starts and mediocre standard downs execution, State was able to bail itself out at times with some quality on passing downs. Russell leaned on Bumphis and Perkins on second- or third-and-long, and it paid off. The run game should improve in 2013, which could, in theory, lead to fewer passing downs to begin with.

But who fills Bumphis' role as the big-play, bailout guy? Of the five returning players with any receiving experience whatsoever, only one averaged better than even 11 yards per catch (tight end Malcolm Johnson). Newcomers will play a vital role in this regard, and that's probably not a good thing on passing downs.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
TD Adj.
POE
LaDarius Perkins RB 5'10, 195 Sr. *** (5.6) 205 1,025 5.0 4.3 8 +4.7
Josh Robinson RB 5'9, 225 So. *** (5.6) 55 335 6.1 4.9 1 +5.7
Derrick Milton RB 6'0, 210 So. *** (5.5) 34 165 4.9 4.4 2 +0.1
Nick Griffin RB 6'0, 225 Jr. *** (5.7) 32 223 7.0 9.7 1 +7.0
Dak Prescott QB 6'2, 230 So. *** (5.6) 31 123 4.0 2.3 4 -0.2
Tyler Russell QB 6'4, 220 Sr. **** (5.8) 25 114 4.6 4.2 2 -0.5
Jameon Lewis WR 5'9, 195 Jr. *** (5.5) 5 21 4.2 3.6 0 -0.6
Kasey Akins RB 5'6, 185 Sr. NR 5 6 1.2 N/A 0 -2.3
Ashton Shumpert RB 6'2, 205 Fr. *** (5.7)





Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Yds/
Target
Target
Rate
%SD Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Chad Bumphis WR 87 58 922 66.7% 10.6 21.5% 58.6% 10.6 125.9
Chris Smith WR 81 48 581 59.3% 7.2 20.0% 65.4% 7.3 79.3
Arceto Clark WR 66 36 487 54.5% 7.4 16.3% 60.6% 7.4 66.5
Marcus Green TE 28 18 211 64.3% 7.5 6.9% 67.9% 7.2 28.8
Robert Johnson WR 6'1, 225 Jr. **** (5.8) 28 17 164 60.7% 5.9 6.9% 64.3% 5.8 22.4
LaDarius Perkins RB 5'10, 195 Sr. *** (5.6) 24 19 160 79.2% 6.7 5.9% 37.5% 5.9 21.8
Jameon Lewis WR 5'9, 195 Jr. *** (5.5) 20 10 108 50.0% 5.4 4.9% 70.0% 5.9 14.7
Malcolm Johnson TE 6'2, 235 Jr. *** (5.6) 16 9 154 56.3% 9.6 4.0% 50.0% 10.7 21.0
Brandon Heavens WR 12 7 123 58.3% 10.3 3.0% 58.3% 10.3 16.8
Joe Morrow WR 6'4, 210 So. *** (5.7) 12 5 53 41.7% 4.4 3.0% 41.7% 4.0 7.2
Brandon Holloway WR 5'8, 165 RSFr. *** (5.6)








Fred Brown WR 6'1, 180 RSFr. *** (5.5)








Jeremy Chappelle WR 6'3, 210 Jr. *** (5.5)








Fred Ross WR 6'1, 200 Fr. **** (5.8)








Artimus Samuel TE 6'2, 260 Fr. *** (5.7)








Donald Gray, Jr. WR 5'9, 160 Fr. *** (5.7)








Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 108.0 2.92 3.35 41.8% 60.5% 20.4% 141.4 4.4% 3.7%
Rank 30 73 54 33 97 88 29 58 21
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Career Starts/Honors/Notes
Gabe Jackson LG 6'4, 335 Sr. *** (5.5) 39 career starts; 2012 2nd All-SEC
Dillon Day C 6'4, 300 Jr. ** (5.4) 22 career starts
Blaine Clausell LT 6'7, 310 Jr. ** (5.4) 17 career starts
Tobias Smith RG 13 career starts
Charles Siddoway RT 6'7, 305 Sr. *** (5.6) 13 career starts
Justin Malone RG 6'7, 320 So. *** (5.6) 4 career starts
Archie Muniz RG 6'5, 300 Jr. *** (5.6)
Ben Beckwith LG 6'3, 305 Jr. NR
Dylan Holley C 6'3, 290 Sr. *** (5.5)
Damien Robinson RT 6'8, 335 Jr. **** (5.8)
Justin Senior LT 6'5, 300 RSFr. *** (5.6)
Jake Thomas OL 6'6, 305 Fr. *** (5.7)

6. Building around the line

LaDarius Perkins is basically a take-what's-given back, and a line that featured a quality left side gave him quite a bit. Mississippi State's line was boom-or-bust in a sense: It was not great in short-yardage situations and allowed quite a few negative plays on the ground, but it created a lot of downfield opportunities for Perkins, too. Experience could even out the flaws. I like this line quite a bit. It's big and has a track record.

Defense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 53 36 48 24
RUSHING 69 23 33 16
PASSING 46 52 61 50
Standard Downs 37 47 33
Passing Downs 33 67 27
Redzone 24 27 19
Q1 Rk 43 1st Down Rk 27
Q2 Rk 36 2nd Down Rk 67
Q3 Rk 41 3rd Down Rk 40
Q4 Rk 87

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 101.1 3.10 3.08 38.4% 73.5% 16.5% 69.2 3.8% 3.3%
Rank 55 90 47 57 98 98 105 90 114
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Denico Autry DE 6'6, 265 Sr. **** (6.0) 13 34.0 4.5% 9.5 4 1 1 2 0
Preston Smith DE 6'6, 255 Jr. *** (5.5) 13 26.5 3.5% 5.5 4.5 0 0 1 1
Josh Boyd DT 13 20.5 2.7% 2.5 1.5 0 0 0 1
Dewayne Cherrington DT 13 18.5 2.5% 1 0 0 1 0 0
Kaleb Eulls DT 6'4, 290 Jr. **** (5.8) 13 17.5 2.3% 1 0 0 1 0 1
P.J. Jones DT 6'3, 295 Jr. **** (5.8) 9 10.5 1.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Ryan Brown DE 6'6, 260 So. *** (5.6) 7 9.0 1.2% 1 0.5 0 2 0 0
Curtis Virges DT 6'3, 315 Jr. *** (5.7) 12 7.5 1.0% 1.5 0 0 0 0 0
Devin Jones DE 12 7.0 0.9% 2 0 0 1 0 0
Shane McCardell DE 10 6.0 0.8% 2 2 0 0 0 0
Quay Evans DT 6'3, 310 So. **** (5.8) 10 5.5 0.7% 0 0 0 0 1 1
Nick James DT 6'5, 345 So. *** (5.7) 8 3.5 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Corvell Harrison-Gay DL 6'3, 265 Sr. *** (5.5) 3 2.5 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
A.J. Jefferson DE 6'3, 260 RSFr. *** (5.7)
Chris Jones DE 6'5, 250 Fr. ***** (6.1)






7. Living up to the recruiting rankings

The MSU defense slipped quite a bit in 2012. The Bulldogs surged from 50th to 20th in Def. F/+ in 2010 and maintained form relatively well in 2011 (30th). But last fall, an ineffective front four struggled to generate a consistent pass rush and failed to do its linebackers many favors on the ground.

This was particularly frustrating considering MSU has had more success recruiting for the defensive line than for any other unit. Of the top seven returnees, four were four-star recruits once upon a time; those four players combined for 10.5 tackles for loss and four sacks, almost all of which came from Denico Autry. Three of the former four-stars will be counted on to not only replace outgoing Josh Boyd and Dwayne Cherrington, but improve on them.

If nothing else, a recruiting ranking tells you something about a player's ceiling; if that's true, then MSU tackles collectively have a pretty high one, as do the ends, with the addition of all-world freshman Chris Jones to the mix. If the line lives up to the rankings, this should be a potentially dominant unit. But it hasn't thus far. Maybe Jones changes that, but "Maybe [blue-chip freshman] changes everything" is a sentence that doesn't bear true as often as we hope.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Cameron Lawrence OLB 13 87.0 11.6% 10 4 2 4 2 2
Benardrick McKinney MLB 6'5, 235 So. *** (5.5) 13 73.5 9.8% 4.5 1 0 4 0 1
Deontae Skinner OLB 6'2, 250 Sr. *** (5.6) 13 42.0 5.6% 5 0 0 3 1 0
Matthew Wells OLB 6'2, 215 Jr. *** (5.7) 13 24.5 3.3% 2.5 1 1 2 1 0
Chris Hughes OLB 6'1, 225 Sr. *** (5.6) 12 20.0 2.7% 1 0 0 0 0 2
Ferlando Bohanna MLB 6'0, 225 Jr. *** (5.7) 12 16.5 2.2% 0 0 0 1 0 2
Zach Jackson OLB 6'2, 215 So. *** (5.7) 13 12.0 1.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Christian Holmes LB 13 7.5 1.0% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Richie Brown LB 6'2, 235 RSFr. **** (5.8)

Beniquez Brown LB 6'1, 225 RSFr. *** (5.7)






Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Nickoe Whitley FS 6'1, 205 Sr. *** (5.6) 13 69.0 9.2% 3.5 0 3 0 1 0
Johnthan Banks CB 13 49.5 6.6% 2 0 4 7 1 1
Darius Slay CB 13 32.0 4.3% 1 0 5 6 0 1
Corey Broomfield SS 13 30.5 4.1% 4 0.5 1 3 0 0
Jay Hughes SS 5'11, 195 Jr. *** (5.6) 13 27.5 3.7% 3 0 0 2 0 0
Taveze Calhoun CB 6'1, 180 So. *** (5.7) 13 19.5 2.6% 0.5 0 0 0 1 0
Jamerson Love CB 5'10, 175 Jr. *** (5.6) 12 19.0 2.5% 1 0 1 2 0 0
Dee Arrington FS 6'1, 220 Jr. *** (5.7) 13 13.5 1.8% 0 0 0 0 0 1
Kendrick Market SS 5'10, 190 So. *** (5.7) 12 10.0 1.3% 0 0 1 0 0 0
Louis Watson SS 12 5.0 0.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Cedric Jiles CB 5'10, 180 So. *** (5.7) 3 4.5 0.6% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Will Redmond CB 6'0, 190 RSFr. **** (5.8)
Justin Cox CB 6'3, 195 Jr. *** (5.6)

Jahmere Irvin-Sills DB 5'10, 173 Fr. *** (5.7)






8. Wanted: new playmakers

In part because of the awful pass rush, MSU's pass defense graded out in rather mediocre fashion in 2012 despite the presence of two stellar cornerbacks. Darius Slay and Johnthan Banks were both picked in the second round of the NFL Draft, but MSU ranked just 52nd in Passing S&P+ (and 105th in Adj. Sack Rate).

Autry, Jones, etc., better improve the pass rush, because the secondary's going to need some help. Banks, Slay, and Corey Broomfield are gone, leaving behind some sophomores and juniors who didn't do much last year, along with a four-star redshirt freshman (Will Redmond) and an incoming JUCO transfer (Justin Cox). Jay Hughes is intriguing, and it's a good sign that Jamerson Love managed to defense three passes in minimal playing time, but this will be a green unit, one in need of a lot more help up front.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Baker Swedenburg 6'0, 205 Sr. 57 41.1 3 33 18 89.5%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB TB%
Devon Bell 6'2, 195 So. 64 60.3 13 20.3%
Brian Egan 5'11, 210 Sr. 9 59.7 3 33.3%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Devon Bell 6'2, 195 So. 43-44 10-14 71.4% 4-7 57.1%
Charllie Grandfield 4-4 0-0 N/A 0-1 0.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Jameon Lewis KR 5'9, 195 Jr. 20 25.9 1
LaDarius Perkins KR 5'10, 195 Sr. 16 20.3 0
Johnthan Banks PR 14 8.8 0
Chad Bumphis PR 6 6.2 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 32
Net Punting 15
Net Kickoffs 90
Touchback Pct 103
Field Goal Pct 94
Kick Returns Avg 46
Punt Returns Avg 81

9. Lots of good punters in the SEC

Mississippi State is the third SEC team I've previewed thus far. It is also the third SEC team I'm previewing with a pretty damn good punter. Kentucky has Landon Foster and ranked 19th in Net Punting last year, Auburn has Steven Clark and ranked 32nd (kicker Cody Parkey was the Tigers' primary field position weapon), and Mississippi State has wonderfully-named Baker Swedenburg and ranked 15th.

The SEC stereotype is one of depth and speed, and those traits often trickle down into great special teams coverage units. But the punters themselves are pretty damn good.

2013 Schedule & Projection Factors

2013 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
31-Aug vs. Oklahoma State 6
7-Sep Alcorn State NR
14-Sep at Auburn 59
21-Sep Troy 102
5-Oct LSU 3
12-Oct Bowling Green 67
26-Oct Kentucky 90
2-Nov at South Carolina 19
9-Nov at Texas A&M 13
16-Nov Alabama 1
23-Nov at Arkansas 37
30-Nov Ole Miss 29
Five-Year F/+ Rk 56
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 27
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* +16 / +8.4
TO Luck/Game +2.9
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 13 (7, 6)
Yds/Pt Margin** -3.7

10. Things get tough a little quicker in 2013

Again, there are plenty of winnable games on MSU's 2013 slate. The Bulldogs will be favored against Alcorn State, Troy, Bowling Green, and Kentucky at home, and trips to Auburn and Arkansas (along with a visit from Ole Miss) are not incredibly intimidating. But for MSU to rack up another eight-win (or better) season this time around, the Bulldogs will have to start at a higher level than what they attained for much of last season. They start the season by facing Oklahoma State, a likely a Top 10 team on paper (and perhaps Top 15 in the polls), in Houston. Following the perhaps vital visit to Auburn in mid-September, they welcome LSU to Starkvegas on October 5. If MSU is 4-3 heading into November, finding a fifth and sixth win will be difficult. The Bulldogs will need to either pull an upset or win at Auburn to keep the bowl streak alive at three years. And it probably goes without saying that the naysayers will get quite a bit louder if MSU falters to 5-7 or worse.

Dan Mullen has done a solid job at Mississippi State. He inherited a program that had been to just one bowl in eight years (and had won more than even four games just twice in that span) and has been to a bowl and found his team ranked in the Top 25 for at least part of three straight seasons. But while a five- (or even six-) win season would have represented remarkable progress in years past, it would now be a further sign of regression from Mullen's 2010 peak. With potential young stars in players like Chris Jones, linebacker Richie Brown, corner Will Redmond, receiver Fred Ross, future quarterback Cord Sandberg, etc., MSU will continue to have a reasonably high ceiling (especially for MSU) in the years to come. But everybody in the SEC West has a pretty high ceiling, and Mullen has failed to distinguish his team from others in the last couple of years. A hard job seems to be getting harder.

More from SB Nation:

FINEBAUM BACK?

Bill Connelly previews Auburn: Please be patient, Tigers fans

Detroit Lions bowl game replacing Little Caesars

Oklahoma State’s insane transfer restrictions list

National recruiting coverage

Today’s college football news headlines

In This Article

Teams
Players
X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.