There is no denying how disappointing the 2016 Mississippi St. Bulldogs season has been through the first five games. No one saw us being 2-5 at this point, and the prospects of a win after this weekend’s homecoming game look grim.
The Bulldogs are likely to finish 3-9 with an outside chance at 4-8, and if Ole Miss were to completely pack it in after another loss or two, maybe the team gets lucky and pulls out a 5th win, but it’s the longest of long shots.
Dan Mullen would agree that this season hasn’t gone as he planned. Very little has worked, and when it has, it hasn’t been enough to get the Bulldogs to where they want to be.
At one time, a season like this one was expected. Getting enough wins to make it to a bowl was an accomplishment, so it speaks to how much Dan Mullen has done to improve the state of the program.
Those improvements have made this season one that can’t be repeated. I’ve tried to tell people he won’t be fired, and while most I think understand it, there are some who certainly don’t like it. But if this happens again next year, or any other year in the next two or three for that matter, Mullen won’t be coaching in Starkville.
If we can all agree Mullen will be around one more year, like it or not, we need to figure out what is acceptable from 2017 and on. So I decided to give what I think will be a good guide to help people figure it out. Due to the way the SEC schedule falls, I think the minimum acceptable performance needs to change depending on if it is an even or odd year.
Even Year Minimum Standards
There isn’t any way the Bulldogs will meet this standard in 2016. But in 2018 and beyond, the Bulldogs need to do at least the following things for Mullen to be considered safe.
Win all the home non-conference games
During even years, all cupcake opponents will be at home, and the Power 5 opponent will be on the road. None of the Power 5 opponents the Bulldogs have scheduled through 2023 are juggernauts. However, if we are looking for a minimum acceptable standard, you can handle a loss to those teams. If the Bulldogs were to at least meet this standard, they would be 3-1.
Win both games against the East
With the exception of this year, Dan Mullen has always beaten Kentucky. The Bulldogs need to be able to win that game every season. And with the state of the SEC East, Mississippi State should be able to emerge victorious over every single East team that comes to Davis Wade Stadium. If the East ever catches up to the West, we might need to reevaluate, but for now, the Bulldogs have to win the home game against their rotating East opponent. If they accomplish this, they’re 5-1.
Win two of three against Arkansas, Auburn, and Texas A&M at home
Remember, this is the minimum. In some years, like 2014, the Bulldogs need to seize the opportunity to win all three of these games. Those programs are not so much further ahead of where Dan Mullen has brought Mississippi State that the Bulldogs shouldn’t be able to take two of those games when they are playing them in Starkville. Winning two of three would bring the Bulldogs to 7-1.
Accept the fact the Bulldogs are likely to go 0-3 on the road against Alabama, LSU, and Ole Miss
The Bulldogs have never had any sustained success against Alabama or LSU. The Egg Bowl has almost always gone to the home team with a few exceptions. If we are talking about what’s the minimum, the Bulldogs are not likely to win any of these games. Again, there could be years where they have an opportunity to get one of those games and have a special year, but the minimum would be to expect losses in all three games and finish the season 7-5.
Odd Year Minimum Standards
Win all the non-conference games.
In odd years, the Power 5 team on the schedule comes to Starkville, and the Bulldogs will often hit the road against a Sun Belt team or Conference USA team or something similar. As I stated earlier, the Power 5 teams aren’t juggernauts so the Bulldogs need to win this game when they come to Davis Wade Stadium. And even though they travel to an opponent of a Group of 5 conference, there’s no excuse to lose that game. Do this, and MSU is 4-0.
Split with the East
Kentucky comes to Starkville during odd years. There’s never an excuse to lose to Kentucky like this year, but it would be even more devastating to lose to them at home. There might be years where the Bulldogs can go on the road and beat their rotating East opponent like they did in 2015, but I don’t think it should be expected year in and year out. Do this, and the Bulldogs are 5-1
Accept an 0-3 record on the road against Arkansas, Auburn, and Texas A&M
2015 was an anomaly. The Bulldogs went 2-1 against those teams in 2015, but the Bulldogs had a once in a generation player at quarterback in Dak Prescott. Since they won’t always have that, Mississippi State is going to lose all three of these games in years where they aren’t at their best. If this happens, the Bulldogs are 5-4.
Win at least one game at home against Alabama, LSU, and Ole Miss
Since we’re talking about the minimum, a season where the Bulldogs aren’t performing at their best levels, the one win would likely be the Egg Bowl. But they have to get at least one, and losing the Egg Bowl at home is never good. If they do this, then the Bulldogs go 6-6 and head to a bowl.
Can these minimum standards go up?
YES! Remember, when Dan Mullen first got to Starkville in 2009, we were thrilled with a 5 win season and bringing the Egg Bowl trophy to Starkville. Those days are gone. We still want a win in the Egg Bowl, but we also at least want to go bowling.
If Dan Mullen were to turn things around in 2017, and then find his mojo again and start to win in 2018, 2019, and 2020 at levels higher than what I’ve put here, he will have successfully raised the minimum again like he has now.
So what happens if Mullen has a repeat of 2016 after this season? Is he automatically fired? Possibly, but I’m not going to make such a blanket statement. If Mullen went on a string of winning seasons where he won 8 and 9 games every year for a decade, he could probably survive it. But if it happens again in the next two or three seasons, he’s likely gone.
You may not agree with me. You might think 8 or 9 is the new minimum based on the previous two seasons. Had he done this without a program defining quarterback, I might be inclined to agree with you. But he didn’t. Dak Prescott was the type of player that can take programs further than what they actually are. In 2014, he took the program to three wins better than what I think is the minimum and two games better in 2015. But for now, Dan Mullen needs to get the program back to this minimum level ASAP.