Mississippi State goes into this weekend's football game against Alabama as the underdog according to most of the national media, despite the fact that the Bulldogs have been ranked No. 1 in the nation for the fifth straight week. But based on MSU's football history, you can't blame the national media for believing MSU will lose to Bama, as they have so many times throughout the years.
But this Bulldog team is different than just about any of the past MSU football teams. They are a very, very good team that has been built from the ground floor to the penthouse.
And they have been built on a solid foundation, something that hadn't occurred with past football teams.
Throughout most of its SEC history, Mississippi State has always been the poorest of the poor, financially speaking, when it comes to their football budget compared to the rest of the SEC. And the facilities have always been some of the least impressive among SEC schools. And the head coaches and their assistants haven't been as well-paid as their brethren in the SEC.
And despite the hard work and efforts of each head coach that the MSU administration hired, the results on the field mirrored the lack of a sufficient budget and facilities.
Then, in 1991 the MSU administration hired Jackie Sherrill, one of the most successful coaches in college football during the late 1970s and 1980s, while coaching at Pittsburgh and Texas A&M. During a 12-year span at those two schools, he led six of his teams to season-ending AP top-10 finishes.
After Sherrill had been out of football for three years after resigning as the head coach of Texas A&M in 1988 when the Aggies were put on probation by the NCAA, Mississippi State came calling and was able to hire a top-of-the line coach for less money than he would normally command.
In addition to hiring Sherrill, Mississippi State's administration also made the decision to start playing all of their home games on campus beginning with the 1991 season, giving the football team a true home-field advantage. Many of their SEC home games were being played in Jackson, Mississippi due to the small on-campus stadium capacity.
A few years earlier, 1986 to be exact, the MSU athletic department administration authorized a $7.2 million expansion project that increased the MSU football stadium capacity from 32,000 to 40,656.
The foundation for success was starting to be laid.
Sherrill proved to be the right fit for the MSU football program as evidenced by his quick turnaround of the program.
In his first ten years running the program (1991-2000) his teams won 40 games while losing 38 in SEC play. The 1998 team even won the SEC Western Division championship and played in the SEC Championship Game, losing 24-14 to Tennessee. Seven of his ten teams either had winning or tying seasons in SEC play. While that may not sound overly impressive, when you compare it to the previous 40 years of MSU football you come away impressed. Only 9 of those 40 teams had a winning or tying record in SEC play.
The MSU administration noted the success and once again announced a stadium expansion, a 1999 $30-million project, which was the largest expansion project in stadium history. The expansion increased the stadium capacity to approximately 55,000 when it was completed in 2002. It was also renamed Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field.
More of the foundation had been put in place. But that was temporarily offset due to another Sherrill program being investigated by the NCAA and eventually being put on probation. Partly due to the long and on-going investigation, Sherrill's last three MSU teams were a combined 3-21 in SEC play.
Sherrill resigned after the 2003 season and was replaced by long-time NFL assistant coach Sylvester Croom. A little over a year after the hiring, the NCAA announced a 4-year probation for the MSU football program.
The ongoing NCAA investigation had devastated the recruiting efforts of Sherrill and Croom for a period of about 4 years.
Despite his lack of success his five years on the job (10-30 SEC record), Croom, when he resigned after the 2008 season, left a legacy of hard work and recruiting high quality student-athletes.
More foundation had been laid for the future success of the MSU football program.
Also a significant piece of the foundation for success was the hiring of Greg Byrne as a replacement for long-time MSU athletic director Larry Templeton. Byrne would take Mississippi State's athletics fundraising to a new level, generating more revenue for the athletic department. He also had a great talent for evaluating and hiring talented head coaches, hiring John Cohen as MSU's head baseball coach and Dan Mullen as MSU's head football coach.
Cohen led his 2013 team to the NCAA College World Series championship series and a 2nd place finish.
While Cohen turned the baseball program around, Mullen was slowly turning the MSU football program around.
His first season on the job he won 3 and lost 5 in the SEC. He followed that up with a 4-4 record in SEC play while going 9-4 overall. He also took that second team to a bowl game. The following three seasons his teams were 9-15 in SEC play and 22-19 overall and played in 3 more bowl games. The four straight bowl games was a first for MSU football.
After Mullen's first three seasons were a success, the Mississippi State athletic department's administration, now led by athletic director Scott Stricklin who took over for Byrne when he left to take the AD position at Arizona, announced two facility projects that totaled about $100-million. The first was the $25-million Leo W. Seal Jr. Football Complex and the second was the $75-million expansion and upgrades to Davis Wade Stadium that increased its capacity to 61,337.
With those two upgrades, Mississippi State's football facilities, while still not the largest in the SEC, were as high quality as most in the SEC.
In addition to the facilities upgrades, Mississippi State also increased Mullen's annual salary. Now making $3,200,000 per season, he is tied for the 25th highest paid head football coach in the nation.
Also, something that may be even more important is what Mullen and his staff have built among the players on his team. Like Croom before him, he has built a strong work ethic among his players. Plus, he and his staff have proven to be excellent evaluators of talent as evidenced by the emergence of players such as QB Dak Prescott, RB Josh Robinson, OG Ben Beckwith, LB Benardrick McKinney, DE Preston Smith, all five of whom were rated 3 or less stars by recruiting services.
Add all those things - bigger and more efficient budget, bigger and better facilities, strong work ethic - and what do you get? What you get is a foundation that has led to Mississippi State being ranked the consensus No. 1 team in the nation.
While Mississippi State may or may not end the season as the nation's No. 1 ranked team, there is no denying the fact that Mississippi State has laid the foundation for many more years like this year from this point forward.
Get used to it Bulldog fans!
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.