“What Big-Time Football Is All About”

Nearly 45 minutes after the final horn, and OC Ben Beckwith was still winded. A big home-field win will still do that to a fellow, even a fifth-year senior. “It was a fun game. It was an awesome win, our fans are awesome, everything was awesome all day,” Beckwith said, then, “Let me catch my breath.”

Suddenly lots of folks are catching their second-wind, not to mention taking a second look, at the Bulldogs. Knocking off then-#8 Louisiana State two weeks ago brought them to popular attention. Now with a 48-31 thrashing of #6 Texas A&M in the ledger, #12 Mississippi State (5-0, 2-0 SEC) will rise both in the new polls as well as the national profile.

As QB Dak Prescott, the highest-profile Bulldog of all said “Big games like this, knocking off an undefeated team was big for us.”

One Dog who is seldom shy in presenting an opinion was a little more guarded than usual today. A little. Because RB Josh Robinson’s lid is usually loose. He almost slipped up when asked what he thought of the previously-unbeaten Aggies. “You really want me to tell you?” Robinson began, then caught himself and offered best wishes to the visitors. After all, Texas A&M is hosting Ole Miss next Saturday and the Bulldogs have an increasing stake in how that one plays out.

Regardless, Robinson knows what this win meant coming on top of the previous league victory. “Just that we can compete for the SEC West. We can be the one of the better teams. We just have to keep pushing forward and getting better than we were yesterday.”

The Bulldogs are feeling ever-better about themselves. Coach Dan Mullen, now he’s increasingly excited about not just his team but those supporting the squad in-person. The 61,337 crowd, which just happens to be listed capacity in the newly-expanded Davis Wade Stadium, topped even expectations for a ranked-on-ranked showdown. The 11:00am kickoff was a legitimate concern along with Friday campus and town events sure to take a toll on the student body. Or bodies.

Mullen even joked this week about the strain on the squad’s school-mates. But when the Bulldogs arrived the Junction was packed. “I tell you what, at 9:00am I don’t know if I’ve heard a louder Dog walk,” Mullen said. Even better though was how just about everyone stayed to the end as State led 48-17. Maybe it was what happened at LSU when the Tigers put up three late scores to make it intense.

And indeed the Aggies scored twice in the last three minutes and were on-sides kicking again. Realistically there was not going to be any comeback, the Dogs had built plenty of margin. And yet, “Late in the fourth quarter even though we were up all our fans, I thank them,” Mullen said. “They showed up for four quarters today. They were on their feet, cheering and making noise for an entire four quarters which is what we needed.”

Since Mullen took charge in 2009 capacity or better crowds have become the Mississippi State norm. Though a bigger Doghouse meant an end to the sellout streak of 30 games, the only reason is lack of visiting-team demand. Bulldog boosters are doing their part at the box office and in the stands…and for that matter before and after games. Victories are the obvious reason and fan optimism is just about all-time high too.

Yet to Mullen it is a chicken-and-egg, or fan-and-team, sort of proposition in building a truly competitive program.

”I remember getting here six years ago, I said to build a winning program it’s not win first and the fans show up. Fans show up first and start believing in the program and supporting the program.” If this sounds a bit coach-speaky, Mullen has hard facts to back up his evaluation.

“We started a sellout streak in a season we were 2-5 at home,” he reminded of 2009. “And our fans started believing. Now Davis Wade Stadium has become a hard place for teams to come play, and that is due to our fan base and them believing. It shows everyone bought into what we needed to do and it’s so rewarding to see that.”

To hear, too, as Mullen raced from the post-game talk with ESPN’s field crew to join players and staff in singing the fight song and alma mater. While, it needs noting, carrying his daughter with wife and son alongside. To see the stands still filled and not just by students for the post-victory party?

“That’s what big-time football is all about.”

Big-time teams also carry big-time rankings, and when the new polls come out tomorrow Mississippi State can expect to be listed in the Associated Press top ten for the first time since 1999. Or back when most of the current Bulldog roster was still in grade school. But as for where Robinson thinks his team should stand Sunday, he claims to ignore pollings and such.

“Well I really don’t care what attention we get. Because at the end of the year we should have a #1 beside Mississippi State.”

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