Mississippi State is 11th in Tuesday’s final release of Associated Press’s rankings for 2014-15. This is the second-highest finish ever by a Bulldog football team, behind only the #9 achieved by the 1940 State squad. And that year’s ranking was done the original way, based on the regular season only without including a post-season victory in the Orange Bowl.
Fast-forwarding over seven decades, the 2014 descendants of those Bulldogs also ended a season in an Orange Bowl. They did not win this one, yet despite dropping the game Mississippi State wasn’t penalized badly by pollsters. Coach Dan Mullen’s team had gone to Miami ranked #7, and participating in the inaugural College Football Playoff’s “New Years Six” bowl system.
#11 is excellent by almost any measure. It’s just that for over a month in the regular season there was just one ‘1’ preceding Mississippi State’s listing in both the AP and Coaches polls. Having entered the season unranked, Mullen’s team stormed through the first half of their schedule unbeaten with three victories over SEC West opponents who held top-ten rankings at the time. This was a program-first of course.
The third such win, by #3 State over #2 Auburn before a record Scott Field crowd, pushed the team to the very top on the next day. The #1 national ranking was a first-ever for Bulldog football and they held on to it well into November with a 9-0 record. That also gave State the #1 place in the historic first release of College Football Playoff standings, something no other program can ever claim.
For the full year State did its part to give the Southeastern Conference six (out of 14) teams in the final top-25. Alabama, which knocked State off the top spot in November and held it themselves until the CFP semifinal loss, ended #4 and Georgia was #9. Missouri climbed to #14 while Ole Miss was #17 and Auburn #22.
No conference club participated in the CFP title game Monday night, but a couple were ‘working’ the event. Mullen was one of four coaches participating in ESPN’s Film Room broadcast where each play of Ohio State’s victory over Oregon was broken-down by peers. Based on social media responses, Mississippi State’s coach dominated the room and broadcast, showing an uncanny if not really surprising knack for ‘calling’ what play was about to run well before the snap.
With a 10-3 season and 6-2 league record Mullen was named SEC Coach of the Year by Associated Press, only the fourth Bulldog boss to achieve league COTY stature. He is 46-31 after six seasons, third-winningest coach in the program’s 119 years and 115 seasons.
Mullen was also one of three finalists for the Maxwell Coach of the Year national award. The other two? Their teams played for the national championship Monday with Mullen providing analysis.
With his post-season duties done, as well as the weekend AFCA convention, Mullen returns to Mississippi State to resume 2015 responsibilities. Some of them he’s already taken care of, such as filling the defensive coordinator/linebackers coach slot by bringing Manny Diaz back to Starkville. In coming days or possibly weeks, depending on what happens as NFL franchises re-stock staffs, Mullen will finalize his own ’15 assistants team along with their increased salaries.
For that matter Mullen’s own contract is to be extended and upgraded. Athletic director Scott Stricklin has not commented publically on this since mid-December. At that time he and Mullen were busy preparing for the Orange Bowl trip, December signings, and other more immediate matters.
There was no urgency to taking care of Mullen’s status, Stricklin explained at the time. “He’s been here five years and we’re five-for-five in extending him,” Stricklin said then. “So I’m sure we’ll make it six-for-six.”
Expectations are that Mississippi State and Mullen will not only get this done to mutual satisfaction. They will present it to both the public and potential recruits at a prime time, something of a kick-start towards both February signing day and spring practices as well as season ticket renewal season.
In terms of the 2015 team though even bigger, if not unexpected, news is due shortly. MSU officials are confident All-SEC and All-American quarterback Dak Prescott will return for his senior season, and can make this announcement this mid-week. National uncertainty about Prescott, as well as high-profile graduations and two early departures for the NFL, are naturally behind another interesting Tuesday ‘poll’.
EDITED TO ADD: Mississippi State has set a press conference with Prescott for Wednesday afternoon to make his decision public.
Mississippi State is not listed in the preliminary AP projections for August rankings…just as they were not a last August of course, and look how high those Bulldogs climbed. With Prescott back calling the offensive plays and setting the entire-team leadership tone, as well as a well-stocked roster of veterans and redshirts and a few key recruits stepping in, Bulldog football can make another run at #1 in 2015.
And maybe stay there this time. #11 is good, but one ‘1’ in a single-digit ranking is best.