Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page


Confession. I have not watched much of the ‘Relentless’ series. What little I’ve seen is impressive, the quality of production and story lines and such. The idea is excellent. It’s just that as of today, the theme itself rings a little ragged.

Because Mississippi State just lost the Egg Bowl, again, to relentless recruiters.

Alright. Any day-after rivalry defeat produces over-statements about a general situation. I’m not immune. Though, you’d think after what, 36 seasons hands-on involvement the nerve endings would be numbed by now.

And to be up-front clear, last year’s loss was worse. State had the better team and went through the first-half motions before letting the under-manned home team run away in the second. Which is why we mustn’t accept injuries as any excuse this time. Everybody has ‘em by now. Relentless recruiting overcomes injuries.

If this State squad was crippled, so to speak, by losing some personnel during the season then there ought have been sufficient personnel working their way up the depth chart. Certainly, by game-twelve, all ought be ready to perform at a SEC starting level, right?

No, 2014 was a larger failure in the big picture. 2015 hurts in the sense of watching a truly class act have to walk off his field without that one more win we all wanted for him. And, with a losing record in the rivalry for that matter. By the way, I wish now I hadn’t dug up that ugly nugget last week. How, of the seven State quarterbacks named first team All-SEC, only Rockey Felker won an Egg Bowl in their recognition season.

And speaking of looking up…at long last I must accept I will never cover a Bulldog team in a Sugar Bowl. I won’t live long enough, not if the cycle of best-shots holds up. We know now 1980, 1998, and now 2015 (might could make a case for 1992 pre-Sleepy’s injury) are when State had the chance. And I can still ‘look up’ in my memory and see Tee Martin’s throw to Peerless Price getting over Adesola Badon…merciful heavens is there no sports-lobotomy available for such images?

Well. Back to the present. Or the future. A Dak-less future at that.

I have to wonder what was running through Dan Mullen’s mind between locker room and interviews. Oh, related to that. Claiming “You guys gave us zero chance to be successful before the season” was unwise. It is also incorrect.

I can vouch: the lowest prediction by anyone was seven wins, most said eight and some nine. All expected a sixth-straight bowl trip. Let’s charitably chalk that unwise/incorrect comment to post-game frustrations.

But, let’s also admit a reason non-regulars on the MSU beat tend not to place faith in State. Egg Bowls 2014 and ’15, for example. Or ’12. And let’s be brutally honest, State is a play away from a 0-4 run in this rivalry.

For that matter, since the door has been cracked, since fall 2012 State has been owned in the rivalry in all three sports. The ‘our state’ them was gracefully retired just in time.

Few want to take bets on next year either since despite losing a heckuva lot from their roster the rival has recruited better and can restock faster. Now if their quarterback bolts a year early, we’ll re-think the likely matchups then. The ’16 Bulldogs are actually in decent shape even with graduations and a couple of expected early departures.

Quarterback, yeah, you’re losing our best modern-day Dog ever. But Nick Fitzgerald is very, very good. He’ll inherit enough receivers, and heaven knows the running back picture MUST be better, right? The line…

Wait, hold fire a moment. This is where we must, must set some parameters. Every criticism here, real or perceived, must be interpreted in the context that Mississippi State football is, and I mean this, operating at an all-time level of consistency and success.

I won’t use space reciting old themes of no ‘bad’ losses in matchup terms, other than to remind that State has won the last 20 games against unranked teams. Mullen is 48-5 against unranked opponents, in fact, a significant change for the better.

What isn’t changed is the record against the ranked. It’s 6-29 now. Half the victories came in three weeks last year of course. Oh, and playing with a ranking, State is 15-15 since 2010.

How to read this? Any reasonable (I know, I know) sense of State history still proves these are good times.

Put another way, we’ve had it a heck of a lot worse, more years and regimes than not. Bulldogs expect to bowl annually and do. They expect not to lose to lesser non-SEC programs, and don’t. I lived, survived really, a lot of those losses 1979-2008 and so did most of y’all.

But, with any success expectations are raised. Which I guess is a roundabout way to wonder, has this program or this coaching staff or both hit the proverbial ceiling?

I don’t think so…if said staff will address the flaw which keeps State capped. Recruiting. By the way, as this is written I’m told the staff is meeting on that same subject. That’s not unusual, today begins one of those NCAA off-campus periods so win or lose yesterday this was the plan. Don’t read it as a reaction to being embarrassed by better recruiters.

Relentless recruiters. Say what you will or wonder about methods, the rival had the better ball club overall. On a neutral field, and heaven help us on a turf field, it would have been worse. I'm They were a step faster everywhere that mattered, certainly a step more aggressive on either side of the line. And, while I don’t buy the ‘more physical’ idea per se, when an opponent only needs rush four, even just three, and still consistently crushes five blockers…well, that leaves a lot of guys in coverage or supporting on scrambles.

No sir, none of last night was schematic. It was skill and speed and they had more of both. It’s why they will likely end up in the bowl we wanted, and playing a Big XII team in an entertaining track meet. Not that I’d been bummed watching a Baylor run wild on State, I’d have been in the Superdome for New Years and that’s enough. Instead, we’ll be wintering in Nashville, or Charlotte, or somewhere not-warm.

Which again, a decade ago, would be acceptable, no, celebrated. Maybe it still should be? But that would be conceding a ceiling and I don’t think we’re ready for that. Or let’s hope those responsible for taking State higher aren’t.

See how two-sided this whole subject has become? It’s exactly because State has shown potential to win, even compete in the SEC, that makes today so infuriating. We’ve said before and repeat, this is a good-to-excellent teaching staff. They’re reasonably good in-game coaches best can tell, though honestly I think that is a little over-rated. So much of what actually happens on the field is not called, it’s reacted by the quarterbacks and linebackers changing…everything. Which gets back to preparation, again something I think this staff does as well as any preceding bunch and probably better.

That, and good talent, gets you to and maintains a 6-to-9 win program and annual bowl berth.

That, and better talent, has the potential for 9 or more wins every year and playoff potential.

Look, I’ve not become a Crootin’ fanatic who measures the universe by stars and ratings. I only say what all know, sign enough 5 or 4 star kids as measured by non-coaches and teams improve if only by sheer volume. Certainly there is much more injury and early-departure margin.

Let’s look at it another way. It’s hard to understand how in year-seven of a successful program which should be hitting on all cylinders, that a converted tight end is pushed into left tackle duty protecting an all-time quarterback’s back side. Or how after sending a string of running backs to pro ball, a 160-pound receiver becomes lead back almost by default. Or how a SEC program can’t count on making field goals beyond 45 yards. And so on.

I get it. There is legitimate pride in being a development program. It means a coach can teach. That’s great. But who said there has to be a choice between a development program, and a recruiting program? Championship programs do both, all the time, relentlessly.

None deny the superb development of the last two quarterbacks. Tyler Russell wrote record, Dak Prescott shredded them. As we often note, the top-four percentage passers in all MSU history are Mullen’s four starters. Great stuff.

But…State has just lost three of four meetings to a program that plugs-and-plays, using transfer quarterbacks who win immediately and certainly have won against State. What is missing here?

Actually not all that much. Most of y’all have said the same thing as we media through the fall, that imagine what this team would have done with a Boobie Dixon to complement Dak and the receivers? The line would still have been less than SEC top-tier, but adequate for ten wins and maybe more if chemistry came through. Well that and the schedule. Through no fault this team had to play a lot of West squads at the wrong time, especially LSU and A&M. Oh, well.

Now. About the annual rumor mill which cranked-up last week. I don’t think it was a distraction for the game itself and 99% of it was pure puff to keep traffic moving. I do know it’s a nice sign that outsiders consider the coach a target. I also have no doubts Mullen’s agent is doing due duty keeping an eye on the market, which has gone berserk. Meanwhile the man himself plans winter recruiting and bowl practice schedules like any other post-season, and it will be good to watch Dak & Crew play one more game.

It still would take lots to pry loose a $4 million man from the SEC, and the handful of obvious step-up jobs just don’t seem likely to come calling based on that vs.-ranked-record or lack of titles to sell a coach to fan bases. Not that a really smart and really tough-minded AD couldn’t look beyond to say hmmm, that’s a pretty impressive performance in a historically-hard situation. But odds are as of Sunday afternoon here at Humphrey Coliseum (the girls won big), nothing much to fret in terms of what would be regarded as a lateral move.

Yet do any of us really know what makes any coach’s clock tick? Any more than we really know what lights a recruit’s fire? I don’t.

But good, or more to the point relentless recruiting coaches do. And recruiting is all that stands between State’s program as it is today, and potentially cracking that assumed ceiling.

And here I went the whole column without one white helmet comment.

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