STATE-ing the Obvious

Mississippi State has taken huge strides under Coach Dan Mullen. Heading into his seventh season as the top Dawg in the state, Mullen has lots he can look back on and be proud of. From day one, Mullen said State could win, should win and would win. In addition to changing the mindset of Bulldog fans, he has changed the perception of the program.

Dan Mullen said the day he was hired that he would focus recruiting efforts on the players from the state of Mississippi. A then-rookie coach said that he wanted the players from the Magnolia state to know that Mississippi State was their state University, a place where they could go and play football at a high level and obtain their college degree.

During Mullen's tenure over one hundred Mississippi football products have signed with the Bulldogs. Tracking these most recent five years, the Bulldogs have clearly set the pace for all of the state's schools when it comes to procuring in-state talent.

Over the course of that period Mississippi State has inked 66 Mississippians, while Southern Miss has signed 41 and Ole Miss 40. Truly the commitment of "Mississippi first" was more than just a clever marketing ploy by Mullen.

Many critics of Mullen's "Mississippi first" recruiting strategy said that Mississippi just did not produce enough quality talent for the Bulldogs to maintain any stability when it comes to wins and losses. Especially so in the brutal Southeastern Conference where opponents recruit coast-to-coast.

The Bulldogs have gone to five consecutive bowl games, a program-first and by the way the longest active streak among the state schools. During that span, the Bulldogs have taken those rosters featuring home state talent and won more than any other Mississippi program.

Since 2010, Mississippi State has won 41 football games. For comparison Ole Miss has won 30 and Southern Miss 24. To be fair the Golden Eagles suffered an especially rough go of it after Coach Larry Fedora left for North Carolina. That coaching change and change of culture ended a string of winning seasons and bowl appearances and brought just one win over the next two seasons.

Mullen has won a total of 46 games in his tenure, which is good enough already for third all-time at Mississippi State. Only Allyn McKeen (65) and Jackie Sherrill (75) won more games as the Bulldogs' head coach.

Last season, Mullen won 10 games and earned SEC Coach of the Year honors by the Associated Press. He was just the fourth Bulldog coach to win that honor. Sylvester Croom (2007), Charlie Shira (1970) and Paul Davis (1963) were the others. By the way, it is worth noting that most MSU coaches so honored by media and peers earned the awards after big turnaround type seasons or the first winning team in many season. Mullen has been winning all along.

In addition to his SEC award, Mullen was the first Mississippi State head football coach to win the national coach of the honor awarded by the Maxwell Football Club Coach.

While Mullen has stayed true to his pledge to the Mississippi college football prospects around the state, he has also done more than just win football games with them. 18 Bulldogs who have played under Dan Mullen have gone on to be selected in the NFL draft.

During the Bulldogs' current five year bowl streak, Mississippi State players have seen their names in the annual pro team picking more frequently than their in state counterparts. Bulldog football is feeling the draft in a way rarely experienced before.

16 Bulldogs have been selected by NFL franchises over the course of the past five drafts, which is far and a way an in state best. Ole Miss and Southern Miss have produced four NFL selections during that time. And we aren't even counting all the free agent signees who won their way onto NFL game rosters the harder way!

Mullen promised to win in Starkville and he has done so with largely Mississippi talent. When the in state crop has been thin at certain positions, the Bulldog staff has spot recruited other southern states and filled their needs with names like defensive end Preston Smith, running back Josh Robinson and Heisman candidate quarterback Dak Prescott.

Now heading into his seventh year at the helm, Mullen has seen Bulldog fans turn out in record number to see Mississippi State play against some of college football's toughest programs.

Davis Wade Stadium, the nation's second oldest on campus football stadium, benefited from the recent run of gridiron success. The old girl got a bit of a face lift last fall making her the largest on campus stadium in the state.

During the 2014 football season, Davis Wade stadium hosted six crowds of 60,000 plus with a new on campus record of 62,945 attending the historic win over Auburn that brought the Bulldogs to #1 in all of the national football polls.

Mississippi State remained #1 for five straight weeks, so what will the Bulldogs do for an encore?

Some suggest that the Bulldogs day in the sun is over and that Mississippi State will fall from national prominence again. All of that remains to be seen, but the Bulldog efforts will be bolstered by the SEC's top returning quarterback, Dak Prescott. Re-read that to notice what might be the most under-reported part of the story: he is a RETURNING All-SEC quarterback, something State has never had.

Prescott elected to return to Starkville for his final collegiate season rather than declaring early for the NFL draft. In his first full year as a starter, Prescott threw for a school record 3,449 passing yards and came up just short of 1,000 yards rushing with 986.

With a year of eligibility remaining, Prescott has a chance to do things no other Bulldog has done. Prescott already owns the school record for total offense with 7,516 gained and 72 total touchdowns. Career marks of 10,000 yards and 100 touchdowns seem to be assured should a healthy Prescott play his full senior season.

Last year, Prescott received more Heisman votes than any other Bulldog before him surpassing the vote total of former Bulldog back Shorty McWilliams who finished tenth in the 1944 balloting.

In a league where many teams will break in a new starter, Prescott appears to be the consensus favorite to earn pre-season All-SEC honors behind center. From pee wee to the pros, quarterback play is often the barometer of any team, so there is room for optimism as it relates to Mississippi State this fall.

With expectations high and the demand for football tickets soaring towards a record pace, Mississippi State fans are prepared for what could be a memorable season. Certainly there are some holes to fill, but with recent recruiting successes and a staff with a reputation for developing talent there does not appear to be any undue anxiety.

After a strong session of spring practices, the Bulldogs look poised to extend their bowl streak and contend for a potential shot at a return trip to the SEC championship game.

Looking back over it all, one wonders how it all came to be. Many suggested that Mullen would not win and if he did, he would not stay. The dissenters all suggested that Mullen would cash in his Bulldog chips and take a post at another program. Rather than moving on, Mullen has helped Mississippi State move up and become the type of program that Bulldog fans always dreamed it would be.

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