With Mississippi State checking in at No. 25 in the most recent AP poll and being left out of the rankings in the latest Coaches Poll, the Bulldogs and their fans should have received a clear message: We want to believe in you, but we don't quite yet. With that in mind, if Mississippi State wants to see the narrative around its program change course from writers and others involved in college football wanting to believe in Mississippi State to actually believing in Mississippi State, the Bulldogs must finish the season 10-2.
Given that the Bulldogs can barely crack the rankings at the moment, what else is there to believe? Mississippi State lost a game by two points to LSU, the No. 4 team in the nation, and they had a field goal attempt to win that game. If the Bulldogs avoid a delay of game penalty, they might very well have won it. In the weird world of polls, that loss hurt the Bulldogs, when in all honesty, it should have strengthened their standing, but we all know how polls operate. The Bulldogs' second loss, a 30-17 loss at Texas A&M grows uglier by the week. However, Ohio State dropped a 14-point decision last season to a Virginia Tech team that finished the regular season 6-6, and the Buckeyes made it back into the top five of the polls and even made the College Football Playoff.
Let there be no doubt, the Bulldogs do not get the benefit of the doubt when they lose, and while the results of 2014 cannot be ignored, the Bulldogs do not get the benefit of belief when by most when they win.
For the Bulldogs, the story around the program only changes with four wins in November.
Should Mississippi State finish 8-4, the most likely scenario would be that the Bulldogs beat Missouri and Arkansas but lost to Alabama and Ole Miss. That leaves the Bulldogs with a 4-4 finish in the SEC. That also means that the Bulldogs would most likely finish behind LSU, Alabama, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M. The story of Mississippi State not being able to truly compete in the West would write itself for so many. If that 8-4 finish came with losses at Missouri and Arkansas but wins over Alabama and Ole Miss, the story would be that the Bulldogs have not developed into consistent contenders.
A 9-3 finish writes a better story for Mississippi State, but it still leaves the door open for doubt concerning the program. Should the Bulldogs lose to Alabama but win the other three games, folks will question if Dan Mullen can ever get past Alabama. If that loss came to Ole Miss, the story will be about how the Rebels are now the dominant team in the Magnolia State. A story of lost opportunity will be written if the loss comes to Missouri or Arkansas.
The only way Mississippi State finishes the season as a confirmed quality program in the eyes of most, if not all, is by finishing 10-2. If the Bulldogs do that, they finish no worse than second in the SEC West, and under some crazy circumstance, they could be West champions. The Alabama monster would have been slain, and the Bulldogs would have regained the upper hand in their rivalry with Ole Miss. Of course, the loss to LSU becomes more heart wrenching and the A&M loss becomes more maddening, but a bowl game in sunny Florida, or maybe even a New Years Six Bowl would help heal that pain.
Yes, all would be well in Bulldog-land. Mississippi State would finally be talked about as a top-notch team.
Until next year, when the story becomes the only reason Mississippi State had success was because of Dak Prescott.