What Dan Mullen is building at Mississippi State.
It has been over three weeks since, well, you know. Hopefully at least some of the gut-wrenching feeling caused by loses of at least 17 points in four of the last five games has subsided. MSU is still 8-4, still going to a New Year's Day bowl game, and still has a chance to have only their 7th 9-win season in school history.
How good of a coach is Dan Mullen? Well, he got us to be upset with an 8-4 season. Most all of us had a sour taste in our mouth at least a few times this season. We expect better. Rightly so, considering the money we're dishing out. But at the same time, perspective is always important.
I don't want to be one of those old guys, (I'm not really that old despite what the college freshman reading this might say) but when I was in school I would have considered the thought of an 8-4 season along the same lines of thinking about having a national championship season. Five years: 14 wins (2002-06). If I would have graduated on time I would have only seen 11 wins. I'm not sure what I would have done without Rick Stansbury's great teams - I probably wouldn't be blogging about State right now.
The point is, 8-4 is definitely a step in the right direction. The stretch of history from 2001-06 is hard to overcome. Even Croom's '07 and '08 years didn't do much to improve the perception of MSU. The quality of the person in the MSU jersey was better, but the talent wasn't up to the standards of the top half of the SEC...probably a reality, certainly the perception - and perception means a lot on the recruiting trails.
When it comes down to it, what separates the elite in the conference from the middle of the road is recruiting. It's 4 and 5 star players. Alabama, Florida, LSU, Georgia - these schools scoop them up by the handful, giving them plenty of talent. Then they get some of the same talent MSU, Ole Miss, Missouri, etc. are getting and establish depth.
Is it possible for State to get those 4 and 5 stars?
Well, the first thing that must be done is improve the perception, and establish a standard. We saw what just one winning season will do in recruiting when Croom collected a number of talented recruits in the 2009 class: Cam Lawrence, John Banks, Fletcher Cox, Josh Boyd, Tyler Russell, Chris White and Gabe Jackson to name a few. That was a response to the 2007 season.
The 2010 class suffered because of a new coach and a losing 2008 season. The 2011 class was a little better in response to the 5-7 record in '09. But once a winning precedent was established in 2010, just Dan Mullen's second season, the recruiting took a bigger jump for the 2012 class. After another bowl win in 2011, the '13 class is on pace to become the best since the 2002 stellar class.
Those rankings are according to Scout.com. And, of course, the 2013 class has not been signed yet.
You can see what a winning season will do. Have two winning seasons in a row and gets better. Have three? Well, it ain't gonna hurt.
I keep using South Carolina as an example. Look at how Steve Spurrier spent his first 5 years: he never had a season better than 8-5, but he also never had a losing season. Then he lands Marcus Lattimore, goes to the SEC Championship Game. The next year he gets Jadaveon Clowney. If the Gamecocks beat Michigan in the Outback Bowl, they'll have back-to-back 11-win seasons, something South Carolina had never done it its 103 previous years.
It's all about maintaining what you've built. If State keeps putting together winning seasons, the recruits will come. The perception has to be changed. Alabama's national championship banners aren't going anywhere, they don't have to build for years to start landing these recruits. MSU does, and that's okay, it is what Mullen is doing.
What cannot happen is a disaster season like Auburn had, or Ole Miss last year. Going 5-7 or 4-8 can not happen if State is going to eventually start getting blue chips and competing for the SEC West. But if the current trend continues, and 7, 8, 9, 10 wins seasons are accumulated it will happen.
Jackie Sherrill proved that Mississippi State can attract top talent. The problem was, after having his greatest success from 1997-2000 he went for broke and signed half a class worth of jucos in 2001 which ultimately tore the team apart. 2002's class was even better, but it was loaded with busts. Lack of scouting, preparation and coaching turned a bunch of talent into nothing.
I don't see that happening here. Dan Mullen is motivated, young and determined to build a program that competes to win the SEC West. The Dawgs will get there, it just takes time. Keep piling up the W's and let's build a contender.