It seems like a silly question to ask - but what are our goals as a football program? Outside of the obvious goals of graduating players and building young men, what are our on the field goals?
It seems silly because the goal should obviously be a SEC championship, right? Well, at a school where the only conference championship was in 1941, that is sort of like the ultimate goal rather than a legitimate goal that you can base your expectations on.
Where do we stand? I have stood firm in my belief that Dan Mullen has our football program on the right track towards success. It takes a while for a school like MSU to achieve greatness on the field - to compete for SEC West championships year in and year out. It took South Carolina a decade with two hall of fame coaches to achieve that status. It is the same for Kentucky, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and probably Missouri. The resources and tradition simply are not there to light a match and BAM! you're right back at the top (see: Florida, Alabama, Auburn, etc.).
I believe Mullen has assembled a quality team through scouting, player development and lack of attrition that is ready to compete with any team in America. I'm not saying beat any team in America, but we have enough talent, experience and depth to give elite teams a good game for four quarters (and potentially win the game). That's where we are in year 5, and that's perfectly fine with me.
So when I see this tweet from our Athletic Director on Sunday morning I was appalled:
The "that's on me" in parenthesis is shocking. He responded to a few people saying he was not apologizing but was simply taking responsibility for scheduling such a tough opponent.
Now, first and foremost I think he's just trying to take the heat for the loss and deflect the criticism of Mullen and the coaching staff; but this one is not on Stricklin, it's on the offensive coaching staff for their terrible play-calling and the offensive players for their lack of execution and penalties.
Is there anything more to what Stricklin is saying? Is there an underlying theme of accepting mediocrity from the head of our athletic department?
From what I have heard, MSU was approached to play in the Texas Kickoff, which went against Stricklin's initial philosophy of scheduling non-BCS out of conference games, but he went to Mullen who said he thought the program was ready for a game like that. In fact, just last week Mullen said he was in favor of playing nationally ranked teams in the opener going forward.
There was all kinds of debate on whether or not State should play a tough team like OSU or not. In my opinion, scheduling a team predicted to win the Big XII was probably not the best scenario to garner a W, but I think we are ready to play BCS teams out of conference - just perhaps a Texas Tech or N.C. State type of team rather than Oklahoma State. But in all reality, MSU, as far back in the SEC as we may be, was right there with the Cowboys and it's not like we could not have won the game, we just did not win the game. Had we known how tough our SEC schedule was in 2013, however, I'm sure we would've declined the invitation (agreement was made in September 2012, SEC schedule was released in October 2012) and played a game like this in 2014 when the SEC slate is much more favorable.
I have no problem with Dan Mullen's expectations. Heck, I think they are even higher than the fans when he goes to SEC media days and says the program should be elevating itself from 8 wins per year to 10-11 wins per year. Scott Stricklin's expectations I'm not so sure about. I never really have been.
Is he happy with 6-6 seasons for eternity? If we never get above 4th in the West is that good enough for Scott Stricklin?
Look, I think Stricklin has done an excellent job as A.D. He's put Mississippi State's name out there, he has a vision, etc. (and he's a Bulldog). I am not in the camp that he is LT 2.0 and lamenting the days when the ninja was here. But I will stop to question this aspect of his tenure - what is our identity as a football program?
It matters. As much as I believe in Dan Mullen, that performance on Saturday has left me bewildered because we saw the same old story that plagued us in 2012. My own questions of whether or not Mullen has reached his coaching ceiling have been raised. As good as he has been, as historically good as he has been at MSU, we are still paying the man SEC money to compete in the S-E-C. We've given him everything he's asked for to compete. Now do it. Something as glaring as poor offensive play-calling will not cut it in this conference. Can he fix it....that is what we are going to find out going forward. If he can't, and if we have resigned ourselves to getting blown away by the big boys and splitting our swing games on the way to Liberty Bowl appearances, then I have to cry foul.
I am so happy with our football program right now. You've got to always keep a perspective of where you have been and what you are up against to understand where you are. Just a few years ago we had big problems, now we have little problems. A linear winning trajectory is something achieved in the NFL, not college. The focus is on moving forward and progressively getting better. For the most part we have done that, however, not addressing the offensive play-calling in the offseason is a huge strike against Mullen and has put the program in jeopardy of taking a step back if it is not corrected. I will commend him for making the necessary changes on defense, and hopefully the offense we saw in Houston is just a blip on the radar.
I know Stricklin is kicking himself for scheduling this game because now the fan base is up in arms and the Mullen bandwagon just got a lot lighter. With a stadium expansion opening next fall, the absolute last thing he wants is for MSU fans to be disenchanted about the football program going into 2014, and unless this season is a complete disaster it would be irrational to fire Mullen. And that's probably what the tweet was about. Still, keep those thoughts to yourself, Scott.
The ultimate question here is: does Stricklin view Mullen as above reproach so long as he going to bowls and selling out the stadium or is he making in-depth evaluations to determine if we are continuing to get better?
I've got a lot of confidence in our A.D. I think he will ultimately do what needs to be done to continue moving the program forward. I do have my doubts at times, but I will give him the benefit of them, after all he did fire our winningest basketball coach after a 20-win season. I've got confidence in our head coach as well - let's see if he can make the necessary adjustments needed to win some big games this year.