Dan Mullen reached several first-time accomplishments in the SEC West during Mississippi State's rise to No. 1. For starters, he went on the road and defeated LSU in the always-hostile environment that is Death Valley. Two weeks later, he slowed down Texas A&M's high-powered offense and cruised to an easy win. It was the first time Mullen defeated either team since he got to Starkville. But there's one more monkey he still has to get off his back.
No, I'm not talking about taking down Nick Saban and Alabama, although that will definitely be on Mullen's agenda. I'm talking about finding a way to win a game on the plains, a place that has left the MSU faithful heartbroken the last two trips out there.
In 2011 it was Auburn stuffing Chris Relf inches short of the goal line on the last play of the game. In 2013 it was Auburn throwing the game winning touchdown pass with only seconds to spare. We came out of both of those losses feeling like MSU had outplayed Auburn for most of the contest.
The last five games between the two teams were decided by a touchdown or less. The only two that weren't were both MSU victories in Starkville (18 points in 2012 and 15 points in 2014). But the Dogs still haven't found the secret solution to winning this game on the road.
And the importance in doing so can't be overstated. In the four seasons Dan Mullen lost to the Tigers, three of those resulted in six or less wins during the regular season. The two times he won that game? His team won eight games in 2012 and ten games in 2014. Both those teams had a long undefeated stretch to start the season, and the Auburn game was pivotal in getting that momentum going.
The game is no longer the first SEC contest of the season for both teams like it once was. Last year, they didn't face off until October. But the game featured two teams ranked in the top three in the country. And this year it's the first true road test for MSU, and a game that could feature two 3-0 teams, assuming they both beat LSU.
Jeremy Johnson and the Tigers are getting a lot of praise right now, national championship type of praise from some, while MSU has been pegged to finish in the cellar of the SEC West. The media will tell you MSU has no chance of winning at Auburn. They will preview that game like it will be a 30-point blowout.
But don't listen to that nonsense, because the last few years tell us otherwise. Auburn hasn't beat MSU by a sizable margin since 2009. The only two blowouts have been MSU victories.
I personally think we haven't seen enough of Jeremy Johnson for people to make claims like he's the best QB in the league yet. And everybody wants to talk about lost starters for MSU, but they overlook the fact that Auburn lost 8 of 11 starters on offense. That's right, 85 percent of their passing, 55 percent of their receiving, and 86 percent of their rushing are gone from last year's team.
State's chances are a whole lot better than anybody around college football will try to tell you. Given the recent history of the game, you know it's going to be close. In a match-up that will be decided by which team makes just one more play than the other, I like Dak and MSU's chances.
No matter who comes out on top, you will want to tune in September 26 for what will, once again, be a heck of a college football game.