The Dan Mullen era has been that of...sheer pleasantness. We, the Starkvillites, have moderately low expectations considering that we compete in the SEC, and Dan Mullen is definitely surpassing those expectations. If our expectations were a limbo pole it would be at Dan Mullen's neck, and he has gone into a full back bend to clear the pole by 3 feet. To many of us a 7-5 season leaves us content, 10-2 or even 9-3 is beyond an ecstatic feeling, and anything beyond that we are clueless as to how celestially exuberant we will feel. After the jump, I explain why we are going to begin each week expecting to win instead of merely having hopes of winning.
- Our coach does not shy away from the words "national championship." He has been there, done that. When describing what it will take for this team to get over the hump and defeat the behemoths of the SEC West, he says the words "national championship." What I love most about it is that when he says that, he doesn't sound like Rex Ryan. He doesn't guarantee or promise a national title. He doesn't give off the persona that it comes easy or that it is owed to him. He simply knows where the team is now and what it takes to get to the top. He is not arrogant about it. He expects to succeed because he knows how to do it. He, unlike some of us, does not feel held back by the banner-covered 'M' on our helmets nor the letters on the front of our jerseys. He is aware of the talent here; talent that has often graced many positions of the football field here in Starkville. He knows he is just a few puzzle pieces away from something special. The players believe in the coach and the coach believes in the players. First and foremost, that is the difference in the 2012 Mississippi State Bulldogs.
- We are sort of becoming a cool school to come to now. Mullen has fun. The players have fun. We are willing to change with the times using different uniform designs. The additions planned for the school in 2014 have us well on our way to nabbing the serious recruits that have a chance to visit our fine campus. These things are not what traditionalists will want to point to when we succeed but they have an impact more and more with this new generation. I really do believe that the AD and staff are figuring out that our goal has to be to appeal to 17 and 18 year old boys who have a lesser interest and appreciation for tradition than we like to think they do. It's about being hip, dude. Hip is still a hip word, right?
- Branding! We have done an excellent job turning Mississippi State and its sports teams into a brand. "This is Our State." What better way to win over local high school recruits than to not only own Ole Miss on the field but to have a simple phrase sock it to them as well? ... Hail State. Oh wait, #HailState. It sits in our end zone encouraging MSU twitter bombs. Honestly, I feel as though that sums up what I've said thus far. We realize the power of social media, branding, etc. and the effects they have going forward during the age of communication. That simple hash tag on the field shows we desire to be more talked about, more viewed, and more recognized. It seems we are tired of being a well-kept secret. I love whoever it is keeping an open mind while coming up with this marketing game plan. This approach is making us relevant, and that is a beautiful thing.
- Also, we are scheduled to play Oklahoma State at Reliant Stadium, home to the Houston Texans, next season. Why is this a big deal? During my shoddy research, I found that the compelling neutral site games taking place in awesome stadiums this year include Alabama vs. Michigan, Texas vs. Oklahoma, Notre Dame vs. Miami, Auburn vs. Clemson, and NC State vs. Tennessee. Basically, these games are relegated to the big boys. I think it is a step forward for our program. Our staff absolutely delivered. We just keep grindin' for our state, dawg.
On to actual football.
- Dan Mullen has fun. The players have fun. I know that is a repeat, but it is necessary. What 17 year old desires playing for a team that looks lame on the sideline, runs the ball 40 times a game (38 times a game between the 2 guards), punts on all 4th and 1's, and never stretches the field? None, aside from awesome running backs, which we generally keep. This offense looks so much better. Visually, it literally looks better. More importantly, it looks better in productivity. The numbers Tyler Russell is putting up are astounding. I know that they are fairly mediocre compared to NCAA standards, but I am not accustomed to seeing 200+ yards, a couple of TD's, and 0 interceptions from our quarterback. He is pretty accurate, and by golly he actually looks like a legitimate FBS quarterback. Often I have wondered why it seems every school but Miss. St. lands real quarterbacks to lead their teams. Mullen gives us the chance to recruit a talented, accurate, NFL prospect-level quarterback. We cannot talk SEC championships or national title chances until we land that kind of quarterback.
- Balance! As usual, we tote a football as well as the higher-level SEC teams. I could list all of the incredible running backs we have had over the years, but that would be pointless. Several played in the NFL (Vick Ballard is starting for the Colts this weekend!), and they all carried the load for our past offensive units. LaDarius Perkins may or may not be another one of those guys, but he is more than adequate to complement our passing attack. His near-7-yards per carry speaks for itself.
- Dan Mullen has won over legitimate wide receiver recruits. They actually catch the ball. It has been years since I have seen State receivers who can run, then jump, then grab the ball, then come down with the ball. I have seen plays this year that I am not used to seeing from the Bulldogs. It excites me now when the quarterback winds up to throw to a player who is not on the TV screen. Down field completions really do occur with this group. This is the part that excites me the most. Prior to this season, I was saying I had never seen us complete a single pass like that. It was an exaggeration, sure, but the comment is not as ludicrous as it should be. (By the way, I really like our tight end, Marcus Green, a lot.)
- Our defense is formidable if nothing else. Joe Lee Dunn does not roam the sidelines, and Pig Prather and Fred Smoot aren't in the secondary. But our current unit is not too shabby. I will admit that I am a little fearful of the amount of loose zone coverage we play. Sometimes I feel as though our defensive formation sometimes says "Here, you can have 10 yards." With corners like Banks and Broomfield, we shouldn't be handing out yards so freely. It moves the other team down the field obviously, but more importantly it allows the other team to establish a rhythm and feel for the game with with little to no risks. The Killa B's on the outside shouldn't be so eager to allow the other team to feel comfortable. I will take the chance of a big play going against us every once in a while if it means the norm is our defense getting off the field in a reasonable amount of time. I would like for our defensive line to be more of a presence as well. We need more sacks and tackles for loss. However, I do think that we are typically able to plug defensive holes quicker than the offensive ones. So I am optimistic that we will pick up good high school recruits on that side of the ball and groom them into juggernauts.
Now it's X's and O's time, finally. Hugs and kisses baby, hugs and kisses.
- Our coach is still learning, but the man knows how to draw up offensive plays. I haven't completely agreed with some on-field calls. Frankly, I was left scratching my bald head during some of them, but the plays in our arsenal are solid. There will be many more times when the coaches don't make the right play call for a certain scenario, but to know that we have plays that will work routinely is comforting.
Lastly, I just want to explain that we are in the conference that has earned the right to play for the national championship every year until proven otherwise. Going 11-1 and earning a conference championship bid puts us 1 win away from a national title game on an average year. We are not there yet. But if we do not become complacent, it may not be long until "This Is Our State" becomes "This Is Our Nation."... And...Boom goes the Dynamite.
Peace out, fellow SBNationers!