Quick background info on me - I'm a 22 year old who graduated with my Bachelor's from State in May and I will be starting work on my Master's at our beloved university in August. As I approach this new chapter in my life, I was reflecting on how far MSU's Big 3 sports has come over the course of my undergrad time.
To begin with, let's look back on football. Step back with me, if you will, to August 2012.
Dan Mullen was entering his 4th season as the head coach and he had raised the level of expectations already to the point where the 2011 season seemed like a disappointment, despite winning the Music City Bowl to get to 7-6 as well as beating That School Up North for the 3rd straight year with a beautiful shellacking of Houston Nutt's final team.
Expectations weren't incredibly high from the media (whoa there's a surprise) as State was picked to finish 6th in the newly expanded 7-team divisions at SEC Media Days. Many of us optimistic State fans, though, looked at the early schedule and saw potential for a 7-0 start riding on the backs of the most heralded QB recruit in Bulldog history, Tyler Russell, and the rest of Mullen's first recruiting class - including Chad Bumphis and Johnthan Banks. It may not have been the smoothest seven games ever, but the beginning of my college years were fun as I watched Mullen finally defeat a West team not named Ole Miss while I sat in the Auburn section of Davis Wade with the girl I was dating at the time who was a Tiger fan. Also fun (from the college student who stays up late on a regular basis perspective) was the very late night game against Derek Dooley's orange pants in a wheelchair watching from the press box. This was my first game as a student to sit in the bleachers - I was front row standing the whole time right behind the upright.
Obviously, the highs of being undefeated and ranked #11 in the BCS poll came crashing down with that infamous visit to Tuscaloosa. However, IMO, that week leading up to the game was only eclipsed in campus frenzy by the successive weeks prior to the '14 A&M game and of course, the '14 Auburn game. I'm proud to say I "Believed" despite the failures that came. Then came the new kids on the block - Texas A&M. MSU promoted it as the "Snow Bowl" rematch and we wore some nice all-white uniforms and the Aggies wore all-black.
It would be nice if we could completely erase that game from the record books - all I remember was it being way too hot for November as I sweated watching this new superstar do incredible things on the field right in front of my eyes - little did anyone know the journey that Johnny Football would take as a week later was when he beat Bama and the rest is history. I don't remember much from the Arkansas game that year except that it was almost sad to watch the John L. Smith-led team try to play football.
The final two games of the season were also duds and I don't think anything should be worth noted here - except that I did make the trip for my first road Egg Bowl and found it to be a terribly uninviting experience which helped me understand why so many on both sides of the rivalry hate each other.
2013 sort of came and went the way I remember it. Again, the Dawgs were picked to finish 6th in the difficult West. The season was full of unfortunate injuries that hampered the potential all season long but there were definitely glimpses. The LSU game was exciting and a lot of fun for the first 3 quarters then everything went off the rails in the 4th. The Alabama game was fun despite the loss - our defense showed it was truly legit that game and man if only De'Runnya could've held on to that catch late in the game.......But that night was also the beginning of one of our now most famous - and most awesome - traditions, "Don't Stop Believin'". It had been played before at random times, but that Saturday night against the Tide when the game was still very close at the end of the 3rd is when the streak of it being played began and it has only taken off from there.
And then obviously there was the Egg Bowl. On a cold Thanksgiving night. Our beautiful gold helmets. An absolutely legendary game in the rivalry's record books. I was in the student section in the middle-of-renovation-endzone and Josh Robinson landsharked in front of us when he scored and the place went crazy. Damian Williams performed admirably. I felt bad for Tyler Russell being hurt for his Senior Day. Chris Jones tackled Robert Nkemdiche in the backfield. Then the miracle happened and Dak saved the day. Evan Sobiesk tied the game at 10 right in front of my face behind the goalposts. Dak drove us down for a chance to win. Sobiesk missed that one, and our collective hearts dropped, but it was okay because at least he made the one that tied the game and now we had the momentum. Dak did Dak things. It's 4th and 2 from the 4. In Overtime. Most teams kick a FG. Instead Dak scores the go-ahead TD. Then the Rebs have the ball. Dr. Bo looks like he's headed for a game tying TD. Then the fumble happened. I've never hugged and danced and jumped with so many strangers in my life. ***I consider this my second favorite sports moment that I attended while I was an undergrad (I was not able to make it to Omaha).
I did make the trip with what seemed to be about 20-30 thousand other maroon-clad fans to Memphis that New Year's Eve and saw the potential that State had for the future with Dak completely in control of the offense. Tons of fun as we ran up and down over the over matched Rice Owls.
The anticipation around the fanbase for 2014 was exciting and this time, the predictions at Media Days had us all the way up to 5th in the West. The first game was so much fun. Opening the newly renovated stadium to face off against in-state rival, Southern Miss who had done some smack talking that summer. I lucked into being on the field behind the endzone next to the tunnel standing next to top recruits visiting campus as the players ran out onto the field for the pregame ceremonies. Incredible experience to look around at what was now the biggest stadium in the state and hear how loud our fans are from the player's perspective on field level. After the pregame festivities were over, I proceeded to watch the rest of the game in the beautiful new endzone seats. The rain did not damper the excitement in the stadium that day as we watched our Dawgs trounce the Golden Eagles. Next week was the most miserable victory I've ever attended. 90 something degrees on a daytime game where many in the crowd passed out of dehydration.
Plus the game was just ugly and weird but at least we won. We took care of business in Mobile and then the season turned the corner when we went to Baton Rouge. I had a lot of friends go down for the game to which I am still jealous of. I still had fun though watching the game with my brother and our grandmother who hates LSU so much she doesn't wear purple and thus was pulling for us. I still have a hard time believing that game really happened. It was their biggest crowd ever to that point with their own renovations recently completed. You just knew that when the 3rd quarter started and we fumbled and they scored that it was just like any other game with LSU and somehow they were going to come back and win yet again. But then it didn't happen that way. Dak connects with De'Runnya for a huge first down when it was 3rd and 10 and Death Valley was extremely loud. That alone let me know this might actually be different. And that was confirmed when Dak made one of his easiest runs of his career, yet also perhaps his most famous - complete with the Heisman stiff-arm.
The next two weeks were the best two weeks of MSU athletics at least during my 4 years as a student IMO. And the time in Omaha was incredible for the school too, but obviously football gains more exposure so that's why I think this is "better". This was absolutely huge for our school and athletic department as a whole. The excitement for SEC Nation coming to Starkville for our game against Texas A&M was unprecedented and of course was surpassed the following week for when Game Day came for our game against Auburn.
First thing I remember about the A&M game was being front row of student section and an hour or so before game time - we're already sweaty and burning in the sunlight from the hour we've already been there - a couple of the famous Yell Leaders come up to us and ask what cheers we have and I remember vividly describing the "Hey Go State!" cheer. That game was so much fun as we jumped out to a huge lead and Richie and his beard kept picking off Kenny "Trill" Hill and we never really looked back despite their 2 late TDs that helped make the game look closer than it actually was. This game really started showing we might actually be legit (even though it turned out the Aggies were overrated yet again...). Somewhere in the middle of this game, my first cowbell officially retired as the inside "bell" part completely cracked off and actually shooting towards the field along the endzone sidelines. Thankfully one of the troopers saw it and picked it up for me although the bell would no longer ring so I just pretended to ring it the rest of the game and broke out my 2nd cowbell for the Auburn game.
What a game that Auburn game was. Top 5 moment of my life (not that I've lived through a ton in just 22 years, but still...). This game had it all. Defending SEC Champs and runners up to the national title. Against a team that we'd really developed a rivalry with and had many close games with in the Mullen era. And they were #2 and we were tied at #3 with Ole Miss. And GameDay was amazing that morning. (Got up at 3 am that day to go get in line). Then the place is packed. And very loud. Deafening during the pre-game. Then there's the incredible beginning to the game where you blink and we were up 21-0. We actually went 3 and out to start off, but then AU's first play results in a tipped interception by Jay Hughes and then Dak to Bear Wilson where he does Bear things and somehow finds his way into the endzone. Then next drive a fumble on a hard hit by Taveze Calhoun and again a quick score this time a J-Rob run. Then we hold them to a punt and proceed to drive down the field for a Dak TD run. The game shifted after that and the Tigers fought back into it to make it more of a game which in hindsight I'm thankful for because it kept the energy at an extremely high level in the stadium for the whole game. It got weird when the skies decided to throw unheard of amounts of rain on us out of nowhere right before the half, but in Mississippi State fashion, we embraced the rain and somehow seemed to get even louder the harder it rained on us. And the team responded by maintaining a good lead throughout the game. Auburn got it to 28-20 and then held us to a FG in the redzone so it was only 31-20 but then the following kickoff resulted in another AU fumble and State used this to grab the 38-20 lead. MSU would allow another FG by AU to put it at the eventual final score - 38-23. The place absolutely went completely insane when a tipped pass led to a Justin Cox interception to put the final nail in the coffin with a couple minutes left. The all-time biggest football crowd in the state of Mississippi all collectively knew right then and there that State was about to be the number one team in the country.
The bye week followed as we became the first ever number one team in the CFP Poll. Then came the road trip to Kentucky which I made as well. Fun game - most remembered for the run that was epitome of Josh Robinson - his breaking an unthinkable amount of tackles to gain a big chunk of yards. We then squeaked one out by an improving Arkansas team and blow past UT-Martin to be 9-0 and facing off against the Tide. Obviously, things happened in that game that I don't wish to rehash, and we came out of there 9-1. Poor Vandy came to Stark Vegas and we did to them everything we should have in complete domination. Finally there were the two disappointing games to finish that season. It seemed like everyone I knew that went to Miami had a good time though so that's good. All in all, a great season. We had a legit chance at the playoff until the last week of the season and finished a close second to Bama for the West title in a division with 7 bowl teams.
2015 was my senior year - so it ran simultaneously with Dak's 5th and final season which was cool. To me, 2015 was pretty much the Dak show. During a time of transition in other areas of the field, most notably up front and in the backfield, Dak was at his best. Spectacular basically every game all season and willed his team to 9 victories and put them in place for a couple more. That missed FG against LSU still haunts me. As does the underwhelming performance in College Station. *Side note, if you ever have a chance to make that trip, do it. Kyle Field is amazing and the fans are weird but great and fun to watch. Me and several other guys drove all the way down there that morning from Stark and spent the night at some A&M students' house sleeping all over the floor and couches and proceeded to drive all the way back the next day. Gotta love college. And that was after I managed to get to go to the Auburn game the week before. That was a great experience too. Everywhere we went, fans would go out of their way to welcome us to Auburn. Extremely friendly and nice fans. Great trip also and to watch the Eagle fly around the stadium is chilling. Plus that game was fun as we watched Jeremy Johnson and Sean White struggle to quarterback and Dak show how valuable a good starter is. Not a ton of highlights except for the Arkansas game which was easily one of the very best games of the entire college football season last year. It's still hard to believe that Mississippi State actually got into a Big 12-type shootout and had the offense to win it. Beniquez Brown's block is an all-timer IMO. The Egg Bowl was honestly very depressing for it to be my last game as a student (thankfully I got into grad school so it's not completely over!). I did absolutely love the white helmets though in that game and the Mizzou win. I know others weren't a fan, but I think they complete the uniform to have them available a couple times a year, maybe once on the road and once at home. I've heard that Charlotte was a fun city for a bowl game from friends and obviously that was a fun win as we wore my favorite uniform and proved how much better an "average" SEC team is compared to an "average" ACC team - no offense to any NCST fans.
Anyway, all of that to say "Wow". In just the last 4 years tons of things have happened to State football and I, for one, am excited for the future of the program under Mullen and think it's going to continue to get better and better. We were coming off a bowl win and a 7-6 record when we entered 2012 and now that kind of season repeated would put Mullen on the hot seat. The talent has continued to get better coming in and we've proven how we can develop so I believe that will translate to continued success. Based on recruiting rankings, I believe this will be the most talented team to put on an MSU uniform across the board. Obviously, we've made a living off proving that talent isn't everything, but it does help.
If any of y'all have some favorite moments from these past 4 years or from any point for that matter, please share in the comments! Here's to a bright future, Hail State!