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Athlon Sports Ranks Mississippi State's Dan Mullen as Top-20 Coach Nationally

Is the Bulldogs' head coach finally getting the recognition he deserves?

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Any time a ranking about college football coaches comes out or a preseason poll is released, Mississippi State fans have almost been conditioned to look for the Bulldogs to rank at or near the bottom. But is that always the right move? Athlon Sports recently released its rankings of all FBS head coaches, and Bulldog fans looking toward the bottom of the list will have to look elsewhere to find Dan Mullen.

The headman for the Bulldogs checked in at No. 20 on the 2016 list, one spot below his No. 19 ranking in 2015. This puts him one spot behind Kirk Ferentz, who took Mullen's previous ranking. Mike Gundy came in at No. 21, one spot below Mullen.

At the time, Athlon determined Mullen to be the sixth best coach in the SEC, trailing Nick Saban, Gus Malzahn, Steve Spurrier, Mark Richt, and Gary Pinkel, and he stood in front of Hugh Freeze.

Apparently, one year can make a big difference.  Spurrier and Pinkel hung up their headsets for the last time after what has to be considered disappointing seasons.  Richt left for Miami, and Malzahn has had to hear questions about being on the hot seat at Auburn.

While one might think this means Mullen has now moved up to the No. 2 spot in the SEC, that spot is now occupied by Freeze.  If one looks at just on field results, it is difficult to argue the Ole Miss head coach in that position.  The Rebels have defeated Alabama two years in a row, and Ole Miss has played in back-to-back New Year's Six games.

However, the name between Freeze and Mullen, who ranks fourth, is surprising to say the least.  Bret Bielema jumped from No. 11 in the SEC to No. 3 nationally.  Apparently, Bielema was given credit for going from winless in the SEC to going 5-3 in 2015 conference play.   That moved him ahead of Mullen, whose Bulldogs have never lost to the former Wisconsin coach.

Nick Saban, who again led the Crimson Tide to a national championship took the top spot in the national and SEC rankings.