This golf analogy sums up Dan Mullen’s scorecard in five seasons as the head coach at Mississippi State.
Mullen came to Starkville by way of the University of Florida, where he coached Tim Tebow and was the offensive coordinator for Urban Meyer’s Florida Gator high-octane offense. Before his stop in Gainesville, Mullen served the same role at Utah, where he had quarterback Alex Smith as a weapon.
Mullen was hired by Mississippi State in December of 2008, with the hope that he could work that same offensive magic for the Bulldogs and take their program to places they'd only dreamed about.
As the Bulldogs head coach Mullen has an overall record of 40-28 and an SEC record of 17-24. Mullen is 2-1 in bowl games, and 4-1 against their bitter in-state rival Ole Miss.
Against the SEC West he’s only 7-20. Going into this season, Mullen and Mississippi State had two victories in 24 games against top 25 opponents. That happened in 2009 against No. 20 Ole Miss and again in ’10 versus No. 22 Florida.
Folks started to wonder if it would ever happen for Mullen and his Mississippi State program, especially considering they live in the SEC along with the neighborhood bullies named Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M and their bitter rival Ole Miss. Life in this league is brutal and this is a team, program and school that desperately needed that breakthrough win.
It finally happened for Mullen and Mississippi State, as they beat No. 8 LSU on the road in Baton Rouge 34-29. It may go down in the books as a five-point win for the Bulldogs but it really wasn’t that close. Behind the quarterback play of Dak Prescott, running back Josh Robinson and a harassing defense, the Bulldogs controlled the Tigers in Tiger Stadium.
Mississippi State has beaten Florida, Georgia and Auburn each one time. But they had not beaten the benchmark programs in the West in Alabama or LSU.
Finally, they broke through.
“This win is the biggest of the Mullen era and it sends a clear message that the program is maturing to the point to compete for an SEC west title,” said Steve Robertson, co-Publisher of GenesPage.com. “It has taken a few years to get the depth needed to compete with the programs at the top of the league but they feel now that they can compete with anybody.”
The SEC has been on a roll of late, winning seven of the last eight national titles. LSU, Auburn and Alabama have won five. That makes life ultra tough in the ultra competitive SEC West. The only way to combat the Tigers, Crimson Tide and everyone else in the SEC, is to keep the same torrid recruiting pace. No one recruits like this league, and it is top to bottom.
“It's a huge win for the program and a win that will help on the recruiting trail,” said Chad Simmons, Scout national recruiting analyst. “Mississippi State already has a commitment from five of the top 10 in-state prospects and another one (Leo Lewis) is leaning their way. This win could push him to pull the trigger. This win is big for the program, Dan Mullen, and not only this current class but the ones to come in recruiting.”
Even before the win against LSU, Mississippi State had 27 commitments and the No. 10 ranking in national team recruiting rankings on Scout. Still, that puts the Bulldogs an incredible seventh in the SEC. They have done well in-state, battling the hated Rebels. To be successful, this program has to go to neighboring states and win their share of border wars. All signs are pointing up, as Mullen and his staff have recruited very well and committed players in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and Texas. They have a few precious spots remaining and could sign up to 31 prospects in February. The Bulldogs landed a big one earlier today with the commitment of four-star defensive line Fletcher Adams (Brandon, Miss). Mississippi State is also in good shape with linebacker Leo Lewis (Brookhaven, Miss.) and Gabriel Campbell (Yazoo City, Miss.).
Four-star running back Malik Dear (Jackson, Miss./Murrah) has been committed to Mullen and the Bulldogs since June. He was very excited to see his future team have a big win against the Tigers.
“Mississippi State is one of the underrated SEC teams,” Dear said. “They proved a point tonight. It will only get better when I can contribute to more big time wins.”
They are four games into the 2014 season and Mullen has Mississippi State 4-0. They beat LSU and went from looking outside the top 25 to the No. 14 ranked team in the country with that gargantuan road win. Up next is A&M and then Auburn. Both those games are at home and the cowbells will be deafening at Davis Wade Stadium. Alabama looms in mid-November and the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss is in Oxford this season. That’s four huge games with each of their opponents currently sitting inside the top 10.
Could this be the year Mullen and his staff breakthrough? That’s a gridiron gauntlet, but that’s life in the SEC. No one is expecting Mullen to lead his Bulldogs to a national title. But many are expecting Mississippi State to take the next step in their ascension. A big hurdle was eclipsed on Saturday night. Another big win or two and there could yet another SEC power hailing from the West.
If that happens, then recruiting will get a shot of adrenaline—especially the next class and the one after that. It’s a slow building process, especially when you are trying to keep pace with your conference foes.
“Hail State! It's a new day in Starkvegas,” said Justin Johnson, a Mississippi State pledge from Hoover, Ala. “There’s lots of momentum going in to the rest of the season.”
You can say that again Justin, as Mullen has Mississippi State primed to make a run at the SEC West title.
Hole in one.