Steve Robertson -

Bowl-Eligible Bulldogs Stay Busy with Larger Holiday Ambitions

He was still unwinding from game-mode, understand. Dan Mullen was thinking and thus talking of what his team could have, should have done a bit better.

Then, as if zooming-out the mental lens, “But we’ll take it,” the Bulldog coach said. “A win we can go build off of as we continue into this next phase of the season.”

That phase is already under way. Mississippi State (6-2, 2-2 SEC) gets back to abbreviated business Tuesday afternoon for a short week of work. This is the lone open date of 2015, and Mullen has scheduled three practice days. After that his Bulldogs can go enjoy a brief break.

Emphasis more on ‘brief’ than ‘break’, maybe? Because, Mississippi State doesn’t have the normal following game week. The Bulldogs are at Missouri for a Thursday, Nov. 5 inter-Division SEC contest. That means flying up to Columbia next Wednesday.

Still, a weekend without a game is a holiday any time…that it coincides with Halloween is, well, just coincidence. The Bulldogs aren’t feeling especially spooky anyway after sweeping three-straight home games.

Meaning, before October ended Mississippi State has secured bowl eligibility. These Bulldogs will participate in post-season football and extend the program’s already-record streak to a sixth-straight winter. All have come under Mullen’s watch of course.

In fact, when this team kicks it off in whatever holiday classic they are assigned, the ongoing streak will literally double the previous longest stretch of bowling. That was 1998-99-2000. Six years in a row of Bulldog bowling now barely budges the program’s pulse.

Know what? Mullen isn’t insulted at all that everyone seems to regard bowl eligibility as a given.

“When I got here people were patting me on the back saying if we get to a bowl once in a while that’s fantastic,” Mullen said. “They expect that now. I love it.”

It’s true. That this season’s achievement has been noted, acknowledged, and now ignored might be the best evidence of how Mississippi State’s program has progressed. What once was ambition is now assumed.

Though it is encouraging that some older Bulldogs do still retain an appreciation of where Bulldog football is, and where it has come from. Senior cornerback Taveze Calhoun will be part of the third ‘class’ of four-year varsity Dogs to conclude every season by bowling.

“When I first got here the goal was just to get a bowl game,” Calhoun said. “Now we’ve raised the standard that we want to go to a good bowl game.”

Mississippi State went to one of the very best last year. The Orange Bowl game itself didn’t play out in Bulldog favor. But the experience for those players and the prestige for fans was almost as good as it gets under the current post-season system. The only comparison would be that New Years Day 1999 appearance in the old Cotton Bowl, also one of the ‘original’ post-season events.

It did ease some on-field sting that when Mullen’s 2014 team got back to campus on the first day of ’15, they had earned the SEC its largest single check received for any post-season activity. Topping both the experience and the payout will be tough this season, as the College Football Playoff rotates what bowls are involved.

Still there are some post-season plums (sugared or not) out there for plucking, depending how many more wins these Bulldogs can compile. By November some of the opportunities could be coming into sharper focus. All this should serve to keep the club focused during bye-week work and not going on vacation mentally before Mullen turns them loose.

So should their successful home stand, quarterback Dak Prescott said. “We’ve got those three home wins under our belt like we wanted to.” So this week, it is “Just cleaning some things up, getting some guys healthy, and come back and finish this final stretch out.”

“We’ve got a lot of SEC games coming up,” reminded running back Brandon Holloway. “So it’s a good time for us to get everything together and have everybody healthy.”

Mullen was to meet with media following Tuesday’s practice, where injury updates will be requested. The coach will go over goals for these three workouts and the short schedule for a mid-week road game. Mississippi State’s scouting for Missouri seems to be a little more complicated now as reports have suspended Tiger quarterback Matty Mauck cleared for return just in time for this game.

This is just one angle on the wider picture that should keep State’s squad and staff motivated that much more. Because, Calhoun as said, Bulldog ambitions nowadays go beyond simply qualifying for a bowl.

“So we’re not stopping here. It’s just the beginning.”

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