From The Dawghouse-August 24, 2014

My pastor ought have known better. He was asking the congregation how many Bulldog wins to expect—6, 7, 8, more?--and noticed I hadn’t raised a hand on any suggestion. Called upon, I responded clearly for all the house to chuckle, “I get paid for that stuff, no freebies.” Hey, it’s a Southern Baptist church, they could pass the plate for a prediction right?

And since this is Southeastern Conference country such a Sabbath question isn’t frowned upon. I’m convinced had the Almighty not stopped at a nice round number ten those stone tablets would have included injunctions about keeping Saturday home dates wholly free (from weddings, dove hunts, kids soccer); or honoring thy parents’ traditional seats even if left staring right into the September sun; of not worshiping recruiting rumors of unofficial visitors; and never coveting thy neighbor’s tailgating setup.

Lo, the testaments are silent on those and other items. But then most of us had the scriptures of Mississippi State football engraved on our hearts and too often scarred onto our souls long ago. The first and foremost commandment being: a New Season means Fresh Faith so leave August angst at the city gate (III Galoshians, chap.2, v.4). Or in our New Revised Translation, ain’t nothing wrong with Opening Day optimism.

Especially so this week, this season.

Presumably you’ve read all or at least most of the features, interviews, Q&As, and notebooks filed since Dan Mullen’s sixth preseason camp began. Acknowledging that upbeat, enthusiastic attitudes are expected from college ballplayers (and contractually required of coaches) this time of year, even a media Methuselah can’t help hearing something a bit different from these Dogs. They’re good, they know they’re good, and figure they can be very good. Right now.

Mullen’s mantra of good-to-great remains to be proven by their play. And heaven knows very, very good teams can look sorta average on some SEC Saturdays, when trying to set a course amongst these 14 feuding tribes. Wandering through the Western Division makes Moses’ 40-season Sinai safari seem soft, with road travels featuring travails greater than hailstones, locusts, and frogs. But enough about the Tiger Stadium sideline…

No, today’s testimony turns to what is Mississippi State truly capable of in 2014? Is this the Bulldog bunch Mullen has spent six years building, with an offense able to part the Red (and yellow and purple and orange and blue Sea and defense stout enough to bring down Jerichoean walls? Welllllll…maybe.

No, that is not a violation of the First Commandment. Just to suggest such a situation is plenty optimistic in my mind. Put another way, for the first fall in too many generations a Bulldog coach can talk about titles and none of his peers snicker. Or many media mockers for that matter, and THAT is a serious shift of SEC opinion. While we won’t read/hear much prophesizing of championships neither is State being cast as the automatic under-Dogs these days. Look, when this loop’s press corps predicts State will have a strong say in who does win the West, that is nigh-apocalyptic change.

It’s not yet where Mullen means the program to be, understand, but another step towards the promised land. Sort of the same as with the splendid monument to Mississippi State’s maturing presence in the football landscape which semi-opened for business this afternoon. Eat yer heart out, Pharaoh. I got a quick look-see at some of the new and/or renovated regions of DWS during Fan Day festivities, but really await a thorough Tuesday tour for media. I really want to find those support-columns with two of the greatest moments in MSU memory outlined, the 1980 fumble recovery to Beat the Bear, and Dak Prescott’s keeper to win another Egg Bowl. The ironic aspect being neither was truly a called ‘play’ per se for the winning team, but rather examples why even a tag-team of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel couldn’t forecast such football finishes.

No question, so much of our high-hoping about 2014 reflects how 2013 finished. I rarely put much faith in the indefinable idea of sports momentum. Mullen has his own sermon about a new club being ‘born’ every January and he is generally correct. Even changing just a couple of names can transform an entire team. But 2014 may be a different case since most all the potential lineups feature so many familiar facemasks. So many MSU men who struggled through unexpected ’13 setbacks and issues to be at their very best in the very end, and who rolled into a spirited spring session. Now, since Mullen made the preseason sun stand still for only an hour of media observation this month, we’ve only the words of players and coaches how this camp has gone. Yea, encouraging words as noted already.

But where many even most years that would cause some degree of caution, the Dogs discussing this team’s development are on the whole veterans who’ve proven faithful and true in previous conversations. If they are offering a good word, well, I’ll tend to lend a little more faith this time around.

Objectively, we’ve had months already of debating the many expected strong points and relatively (fortunately too) few question areas. I don’t call them ‘weak points’ yet because they may not be after all. Though I’ll also qualify the two major concerns in these terms. First, a quarterback of Dak Prescott’s potency can absolve a whole lot of blocking sins, though that does admittedly put him at increased risk every time he tucks and totes. And second, if the staff isn’t confident about placekicking, well, they can go ahead and game-plan for third and fourth downs accordingly right now…and know they’ve got a defense to back up any decision.

So no need to scroll over the lineup today. It’s the intangibles worth talking about, reinforcing the general optimism. By which I mean what State’s players and maybe just as key State coaches developed in 2013’s struggles.

See, some critics out there want to look at all the close calls of last season and apply them against the Bulldogs. As in, State was lucky to get a couple of breaks to make bowl eligibility and have a fourth-straight winning season. Said critics claim the ball will bounce the wrong way this season. Curiously, they use the same close-game concept in favor of a rival, go figure. Well, as the Book said and not in a positive way, ‘wisdom is justified of all her children’.

Me, I look at Kentucky, Bowling Green, Arkansas, and Babyl…umm, Ole Miss…as positives. Sure they came down to one absolutely decisive play, and Mississippi State made it. This was all after, remember, failing on the one-play at Auburn, as well as an opener with Okie State that was a heckuva lot closer than the end result. Which shows in review those Bulldogs learned how to make the decisive play and did so, repeatedly.

Bulldogs who by-and-large are back, though if we miss Nickoe Whitley’s incredibly coincidental heroics in back-to-back weekends we won’t miss the obligatory 15-yard penalties. Just saying… The point remains, when a ball team doesn’t just think it can make the clutch play but actually does so, and repeatedly, there is an impact that lasts. Not just on the successful team, but on opponents who have seen and remember it, too.

To hem-and-haw just a bit longer, let me be clear on this: for ‘bout the first time since the Flood, it seems, there isn’t a matchup I can stare at and say, mmmmm, nope, not gonna happen. Every single game on State’s slate looks like a potential W. Sure, this as much reflects what I do think I know about these Dogs as what we don’t and for now can’t know about most of our 2014 SEC foes. On each of the six, no make that four days left ‘til conference kickoff I could inscribe an order-of-West finish and it would be different each time. Which is another way of saying a whole lot of tables will get upturned over the course of this fall.

So, however broad the gate on overall SEC uncertainty may be, the hour is arrived to narrow which way the 2014 Bulldogs will follow. To Atlanta? It won’t be ruled out but my August hunch is may a tiebreak would get involved. Just like 1998, as this scribe had the joy to chronical back then in fact.

If the Bulldogs are talking big why not let the spirit move us a little too? Meaning…9-3, 5-3 SEC. If this is not big enough to meet your own dreams feel free to offer your own revelations. As a pre-millennial, pre-Trib Baptist I’m not worried about any anti-opinions either. And to those inclined to put more than emotion at stake on such prophecies, let me offer one line from the wisdom literature: ‘My son, bet with your head, not over it.’ I’m sure that’s said somewhere in Proverbs…

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