Over the last two weeks as I watched MSU play their first games as the number one team in America, something became increasingly clear: as talented and as dominant as this squad may be, it still shares one main quality of so many MSU teams before it; they are infinitely more comfortable playing as the underdogs. It's just who they are. Although, it's this mentality that has carried the Bulldogs to numerous huge upsets this year and a perch on top of the college football world.
This team has set itself apart from past Dan Mullen teams in the fact that they have enough talent and grit to rise above poor performances like the one we saw against Arkansas. But they are clearly uncomfortable when the expectation lies on them to avoid being upset by a lesser team.
There is a total shift in a team's psyche when they go from being the hunter to being the hunted. It's inevitable whether the team is Mississippi State or someone like Alabama. Although, where Alabama and its culture is built around an expectation of football elitism, the Bulldogs have a culture where the motto is "Don't Stop Believing". And these players haven't stopped believing since the first day they stepped on campus.
When most of the players on State's roster were being recruited, they were told they would be a part of a building process and that they needed to buy in completely and believe in this coaching staff's ability bring out their full potential. None of these guys were highly sought after five-star recruits expecting to come into MSU's program and join a top-ranked team. They were all players simply willing to put in the hard work and make themselves better with the hope of breaking through the wall of mediocrity that MSU has stood behind for so long.
Now they've made it to the big time. Dan Mullen has seemingly done the impossible and everything that he sold to his players as recruits has come to fruition. A relatively small program with less resources and less money than its SEC counterparts has risen up and taken over the college football world by sheer force of will and a belief that winning any game is possible.
This team was built to prove people wrong and that's what they've done all season.
Now Alabama presents the last enormous challenge standing between Mississippi State and an SEC West championship, providing a final opportunity during the regular season to shock the world on a huge stage.
Yes, Mississippi State will be ranked above the Tide when they travel to Tuscaloosa but they will not be favored to win. Analysts will choose Alabama and people will bet against the Bulldogs but that's exactly how this team should want it.
They need to be the underdog. Beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa would not only potentially clinch the SEC West for MSU depending on how things shake out this weekend but it would also be the single biggest win in the history of MSU football. And right now that win seems improbable to everyone except for Mississippi State's players and coaches.
At every turn, as the challenges have gotten larger as this season has progressed, MSU has risen to the occasion and showed their doubters the door. Why would a game against Alabama be any different?
And this week's match-up against Tennessee-Martin couldn't have come at a better time. Alabama has to travel to Baton Rouge and beat a surging LSU team to keep their SEC Championship hopes alive while State can hopefully get its second-string players plenty of reps and work to get this team totally healthy and ready to run at full strength in Tuscaloosa.
If you have your doubts about State, that's fine. They're used to it by now. All season long, the Bulldogs have been at their best when the challenges are the biggest. The real question now is why would you still want to bet against them? Come next Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium, people may pick against MSU but the fact remains that this team isn't ranked number one because they've lost football games.
So, go ahead and write-off Mississippi State if you must, that's just how they like it.