Mississippi State has High Expectations
By Matthew Osborne
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Although Mississippi State went just 7-6 last season, Dan Mullen has raised the expectatoins in Starkville.
The 2012 version of SEC Media Days finds the Mississippi State Bulldogs playing the familiar role of the underdog.
Thought by many experts to be a surprise contender heading into last season, the Bulldogs fought their way through a brutal schedule to finish the 2011 season with a mediocre 7-6 record.
The schedule certainly made life difficult for the Bulldogs last fall, with divisional games against Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn and LSU, as well as cross-divisional contests against South Carolina and Georgia.
Despite the difficult slate of games, the Bulldogs fought admirably in many of their toughest contests. Although Mississippi State lost all six of the contests played against the aforementioned teams, the Bulldogs competed in many of those games. Mississippi State dropped an early season game to Auburn on the final play of the day, and lost a two-point contest to South Carolina approximately a month later.
While head coach Dan Mullen is thrilled that his Bulldogs were given a tremendous amount of respect prior to the start of last season, he feels that his players may have bought into the hype prematurely, which directly led to some of their close losses.
“You have to play for 60 minutes, and sometimes beyond,” Mullen said at the start of day two of SEC Media Days. “The margin for error in this league in so small that there could be one play in a game that is going to swing the outcome of that game. I think after last year, [the players] understand that better. I think they lost a little bit of that chip on the shoulder and their edge leading up to the season.”
Finding such a chip on their shoulder should present little challenge this season, as the Bulldogs are projected to finish in the bottom half of the division by the majority of media pundits.
For a program with the history of Mississippi State’s, high expectations are not something with which the fans have grown accustom. That mindset has changed under the direction of Mullen, however, and this team ready to change the national perception of their program.
“We hold our standards high. We won a bowl game last year, but last year really wasn’t a good season for us in a lot of people’s eyes,” junior quarterback Tyler Russell told members of the media. “That’s a motivation factor for us in the offseason, to get better and get over that hump.”
All-conference offensive lineman Gabe Jackson echoed the sentiments of his starting quarterback.
“Our expectations are still high,” Jackson stated. “We had a setback last year, but we are still working hard and we are ready for a good year this year.”
Mississippi State’s high expectations for this season are not simply blind optimism. Make no mistake; this will be a talented assembly of players.
Russell is set to take over as the full-time starter under center, and will have one of the best receiving corps in the conference at his disposal, with Arceto Clark, Chad Bumphis, Chris Smith and Joe Morrow all expected to be significant contributors this fall.
The offensive line returns just two starters, but will also be welcoming back senior OG Tobias Smith, who injured his ACL early last season. The big bodies up front will pave the way for the speedy LaDarius Perkins, who rushed for 422 yards running behind Vick Ballard a year ago.
The Bulldogs return seven starters on defense, including star cornerbacks Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield. Mississippi State allowed just 19.7 points per game last season, and could be even better on the defensive side this fall if they get solid play from some of their young defensive linemen.
In order for the Bulldogs to achieve all of their 2012 goals, however, they will have to fare better against the premiere teams in the SEC West. The Bulldogs have proven that they can beat the bottom half of the league, but until they show that they can beat the league’s top teams on a consistent basis, it will be nearly impossible for the program to garner national attention.
Mullen knows that his program is right on the cusp of becoming a legitimate contender in the brutal SEC West.
While winning the division will still prove to be a formidable task for the Bulldogs this season, the man in charge of leading the brigade is still encouraged about the changes that he has witnessed in recent seasons.
“I think the mentality,” Mullen responded when asked what has changed the most in the programs since he started coaching. “I think the mentality of our players, our fan base, our student, our administration - they expect to compete every weekend.”
Although a change in mentality doesn’t always equate to success on the gridiron, if nothing else, it is a significant step in the right direction.