From The Dawghouse

I’ve never denied this profession can offer perks. Of course often as not it’s a free hot dog. So enjoying a primo piece of Mississippi-sourced steak at Beefin’ Up the Bulldogs today is a fine change of pace. And hey, Dad was a member of the Cattlemans Association. I reckon all the bobwire (four strands, mind) fence built and hay hauled back in the day merits a seat at this feast.

Certainly we would have welcomed a bunch of these Bulldogs for tossing square bales up into the barn lofts. Heck, there are fine fellows on this roster who look capable of toting a round bale under each arm. This afternoon they enjoy a beef-binge marking the end of true training camp and transition to pre-season practicing, the obvious thought arises.

If Bulldogs can haul the football and toss opponents around with equal authority, 2015 will build upon the 2014 breakthrough just fine.

Yesterday we posted Dan Mullen’s commentary on Mississippi State’s first scrimmage, which was as usual closed. He was upbeat about the first unit, critiqued the youngsters within reason, and would only say “everybody was pretty healthy” in regard to injuries. Maybe we’ll hear more on this topic during the coming week. Maybe not. Rumors will fly fast of course.

Word is the defense dominated, particularly up-front. Though this may have more reflected no containment-concern of Dak Prescott keeping and running than sheer superiority. Or maybe the defense is just that good? Because scoring points is not exactly a raging camp concern, at least against equal and lesser opponents.

Which leads to the obvious follow-up: who might be a superior foe on 2015’s schedule? Answer, at least as of mid-August: I don’t see any at this point.

Seriously. This slate shows no matchup Bulldogs begin as an automatic underdog. Well other than in oddsmakers minds and with all due respect to them what makes their livings off posting lines this SEC season has to be a confusing challenge. The Western Division that much moreso.

Yes, I was at July’s league Media Day. Just one. Hearing 13 coaches and representing players asked basically how wonderfully awesome is it reflecting Alabama’s aura wears thin fast. Really, do new media staff in that state sacrifice a cat while swearing fealty or something?

Anyway. Seeing State voted last in the West there wasn’t at all surprising. Nor should we take offense at other, somewhat more objective and selective outlets saying the same or picking this squad sixth at best. Wait, stay with me here. Dan Mullen was not offended either.

He instead was completely candid at Hoover and again at MSU’s media meet, saying more or less that is the program’s full history working against outside optimism. “History” he called it and while I doubt Dan has studied State’s annals deeply he knows the trends. And, he’s correct. The blunt fact even rabid Dog fans must acknowledge is stringing together multiple successful seasons has been tough enough.

Consecutive great campaigns? Hasn’t been done here since what, 1940-41? Yeah, 1998-99 was close. For that matter State was positioned for three-straight seasons to win the West with two weekends left. Sure, the deal was only sealed once. Still 1997-2000 has set MSU’s modern standard for sustained success. Modern defined as, OK, in my lifetime…but since I’m closing in on six decades it seems a fair sample size.

Still the fair point holds, that the very infrequent great years and for that matter most of the very good years here were followed by less success. Or none at all. That’s history, not opinion.

It also can change for the better.

For now put yourself in position of a media member from, say, east Tennessee or South Florida or all of Arkansas and other benighted regions. They remember, or have heard, of MSU’s tradition of short and sharp highs followed by deep and extended troughs. They then may look at the only info most media have for judging who could be good, the Starters Lost line in quick facts pages. Hmmm, no Josh Robinson and his 1,200 yards. No Benardrick McKinney and his team-leading tackles. No Preston Smith who is tearing it up already in the NFL. Two three-year starter tackles also in the league. Three offensive linemen lost, some to pro ball too.

Well, what would you think in their place? You’d almost certainly say Mississippi State historically doesn’t replace such players for the next year. Maybe many years. And over most of our past that’s been correct.

It isn’t now.

Or more honestly, this historical trend does not appear to hold true for 2015. Not in all the above areas, I mean.

Sure, Preston was a h###-raiser on one end of the d-line. Welcome to the spotlight A.J. Jefferson, who can work both end and maybe tackle if needed. Maybe he won’t if Chris Jones, a name media HAVE heard, plays anything like he talks this junior (i.e. draft potential) season. And I think he will. Oh, and word is scouts have focused on the low-key but big-potential Ryan Brown on the other end, too. But reporters don’t have much way to know this without subscribing here. We’d cut them a reasonable rate if interested.

Linebackers? B-Mac was a physical specimen and Matt Wells just a freak of a talent at his size. Their heirs are just as good, have more than enough time together already, and depth is setting up to be brilliant as Green, Gray, Jung, Lewis, come up the conveyor belt.

And need we really explain that for all he did, Robinson is the easiest replacement of the lot? Again though, non-MSU beat folk can’t know this much less vote on such speculation. Sure they would for Alabama and LSU and the like, but they have a history of reloading. Not State.

Not yet, I mean.

The real story, to me, of this preseason and for that matter last spring was the quality of player taking the open positions. Or still battling for them in a few cases and whoever wins will be a good ‘un. Maybe a better ‘un in the long run which is saying a whole lot. OK, yes, concerns about the front-five can’t be quieted by all the confident talk blockers have offered in camp. I’m glad they are self-assured. I want to see it in action the second Saturday of the season.

What I’m claiming is the Bulldog roster is stocked to an overall level like nothing seen…ever? Much of the talent is relatively or entirely new so we might be over-stating the case there. Still the odds are favorable based on recent restockings.

The point that should not be debatable is the sheer look of this squad. During the three practice observations I commented to a staffer that every player in a uniform looked like he belonged. Not belonged in college, belonged on a SEC roster. I’ve never been able to claim that before. This is no guarantee they can play football I admit.

But the physiques? Absolutely, they belong. That is not a comment on the strength program either, though Rick Court and staff are doing their jobs just fine. It is a comment on the raw material Mullen has recruited. Over several years.

I actually noticed this one July day when Steve Robertson and I (our act really should be titled ‘Rosebowl and Uncle Dave’ huh?) were setting up a video shoot in the Seal Lobby. A younger Dogs came through the doors and in passing I commented hey, who are those guys, they look like players. Steve said they were true freshmen…and they will be players.

What I’m getting at is, when new kids in camp look the physical equals of SEC veterans, and certainly would have stood-out as elite athletes on teams in the 1990s and 2000s, the program is in position to establish some serious consistency. And by extension, forecasts of a Bulldog drop from 2014’s peak should prove pessimistic.

Just something to think about in August, anyway.

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