Opening Up

At long last, game week is here for the Mississippi State Bulldogs. The 100th anniversary of Scott Field will welcome a Bulldog team ripe with both expectations and potential. Many Bulldog fans are hopeful that this may be "THE" year and it very well could be. Coaches, players and fans alike will get their first look at the 2014 Bulldogs in the newly expanded Davis Stadium in just four days.

Mississippi State is 4-1 in season openers under Dan Mullen.

The Mullen era began with an impressive win over in state foe Jackson State, 45-7.

While the outcome and margin of victory were for all intents expected, the first offensive snap of the season and Mullen era signaled a change in the football culture in Starkville.

Mullen dialed up a gadget play that called on true freshman wide out Chad Bumphis to take the ball on an end around and fire a pass down field to wideout O'Neal Wilder.

While the pass fell incomplete, the resounding message to Bulldog fans was still received; these were not the Bulldogs of old.

Bumphis went on to catch the first two touchdown passes of his record breaking career that day.

Even on that early date, it was clear Mullen had found an important piece of the offensive puzzle in the Tupelo, Mississippi product.

#1 would factor in the season opening win in year two with a pair of touchdown grabs, but the headliner in the 2010 49-7 shelling of Memphis was redshirt freshman quarterback Tyler Russell.

In his Bulldog debut, Russell threw for 256 yards and four touchdowns on an impressive 13 of 16 passing night.

The first of two Gator Bowl seasons for the Bulldogs was highlighted by a six game winning streak which included wins over SEC Eastern division powers Florida and Georgia.

The building blocks for the two QB system that made the Mullen offensive so difficult to defend that year were laid in that opening night win over the Memphis in Larry Porter's debut as the Tiger head coach.

State made the return trip to Memphis in 2011 for the season opener, which resulted in another historic win.

The Bulldog offensive netted a school record 645 yards and 59 points in blowout of the Tigers, 59-14.

While the ever reliable Bumphis lifted the lid on the scoring barrage, Vick Ballard was the offensive hero of the night rushing for three Bulldog scores in less than three quarters of work.

The 2012 season brought the Tigers of Jackson State back to Scott Field for another season opener.

While the last visit to Davis Wade Stadium proved to be less than hospitable on the field for the Tigers, this season the SWAC power found the Bulldogs even more ferocious.

The game was essentially decided at half time after 35 first half Bulldog points.

A pair of defensive scores helped State to a 56-9 decision to run Dan Mullen's mark to 4-0 in season openers.

That impressive streak would come to an end in 2013 as the Bulldogs saw a step up in season opening opponents meeting Oklahoma State on a neutral field in Houston, Texas.

Many were afraid the Bulldogs would be unable to win a "track meet" type affair with the Big-12 Cowboys, but the Mississippi State defense came to play.

The high octane offense of Oklahoma State was forced to punt on its' first five possessions of the contest.

The Cowboys finally broke through late in the second half and headed to the locker room with a 7-3 lead at the intermission.

Senior signal caller Tyler Russell was lost to injury and the Bulldog offense was never able to get on track.

Dak Prescott was forced into action. It took game or two for the sophomore to get his feet under him, but once he did, the Mullen offense began to click.

Southern Miss enters this weekend's contest looking to right the ship after two brutal years of on the field setbacks.

The Golden Eagle defense allowed 503 points in 2013, which was 117th nationally.

David Duggan's defense allowed 40 or more points seven times during the season with four opponents scoring 55 or more.

The veteran linebackers coach will seek to plug in some new faces in some important places as the season begins this weekend.

Leading tackler, linebacker Debarriaus Miller, was dismissed from the Southern Miss program at the conclusion of the spring semester.

Departed senior drain plugs Octavious Thomas and Khyri Thornton combined for 88 tackles, 11 of which went for loss last season.

Productive linebacker Dylan Reda has also exhausted his eligibility. The former JuCo transfer recorded 49 personnel stops a season ago.

Defensive lineman Rakeem Nunez-Roches has received rave reviews from fall camp observers and is expected to be a real factor on the defensive front wall.

Former Noxubee County standout Dylan Bradley had a productive season last fall recording 52 tackles.

Bradley is currently running second team, but is expected to be in the regular D line rotation Saturday.

The Eagles were happy to receive good news from the NCAA after a medical hardship year was granted to senior linebacker Alan Howze of Ocean Springs.

Howze missed most of last season, but is now healthy and ready to help bolster a defense that projects just five senior starters.

Offensively Southern Miss was rather one dimensional, but much of that can be attributed to the fact that the Eagles were mostly playing catch up in most games.

Be that as it may, the Black and Gold rushing attack in 2013 was woeful to say the least, only two FBS teams totaled less ground gains on the campiagn.

The Southern Miss offensive unit managed just 875 yards of rushing offense on the 2013 season.

417 of those yards graduated along with senior running back Kendrick Hardy.

Nearly a quarter of Hardy's 2013 rushing total, 106, came in the season ending win over UAB who finished 2-10.

Needless to say, there is room for improvement in the Southern Miss ground game.

There will be some faces lining up on offense for Southern Miss that should be familiar to Bulldog fans.

Former Bulldog commitments Tyre'oune Holmes and Norman Price will both likely see action in this weekend's season opener.

Holmes caught more passes than any other Golden Eagle last fall, while just a freshman.

Despite an impressive opening season in Hattiesburg, Holmes lost his starting job to Houston transfer Casey Martin who has had a strong fall camp.

Heading into the weekend, Holmes is not currently on the Southern Miss two deep and was running third team last week.

Price was projected as a starter at right tackle for Coach Todd Monken's offensive line, but the battle has been back and forth throughout fall camp.

The Vicksburg, Mississippi native will get a look this weekend even if he is not on the field for the team's first offensive snap.

When former athletics director, Greg Byrne, signed a home and home agreement with Southern Miss, the news was not as well received as some may have anticipated.

With Davis Wade at a new capacity and the Bulldog football program surging, the stage is now nearly perfect.

Southern Miss will visit Mississippi State for the first time since Brett Favre was a Golden Eagle and there is some sense of novelty in the in state match-up.

The oddsmakers have installed the Bulldogs as a 30 point favorite, but fans should take such predictions with a grain of salt.

Southern Miss coaches, players and fans are eager to erase the bitter taste of the past two seasons and will be prepared to play.

Mississippi State is poised to have a historic year and a resounding win in week one over, well anybody, would only feed the machine that drives up ticket demand and interest in the program.

No matter fans' opinions about who and where the Bulldogs should play their non-conference games, here come the Golden Eagles.

They will take on a Bulldog football team that is as talented top to bottom as any in the modern era.

A near sellout crowd has already been announced as the final ticket tally will set a new Mississippi State on campus record.

As the only major college football game in the state on Saturday, just about every Bulldog target within driving distance will be on hand as Mississippi State opens the season in grand style and unveils the new Davis Wade.

I am not sure the opening stage could be grander.

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