It's amazing how a bye week can give you clarity. Especially when you're the number one team in the country: A feat we're all experiencing for the first time. Even without that experience, the bye week is a time to sit back, relax, and survey what remains between us an our goals in December. But when you add that euphoric experience to the mix, the bye week is almost necessary: A time to recollect and make sense of what is happening in our tiny corner of the universe.
For me, this week was perfectly timed. I hardly thought about MSU football for the majority of the week, and I was able to spend yesterday taking in the rest of the college football landscape, especially those around us at the top. With the week to refresh and with the most important second half of a season starting today, here were a few thoughts I wanted to share.
1. Take it week by week
The dynamics of the first half of the season and the second half of the season could not be any more different. In the first six games, Mississippi State was just trying to find its place in the stacked SEC West. We knew anything from 3-3 to 6-0 was possible, although admittedly many of us thought the latter was a pipe dream. That pipe dream flushed out though, and here we sit at 6-0 with a large target on our backs. And that's a new experience for all of us: fans and players alike. We're used to being the underdog or "just another pretty good opponent" on someone's schedule, not Goliath whom every David wants to take down. I still don't think of us in that sense from behind my maroon-colored lenses, but it's important to understand how others see us now.
Teams are going to take a shot at us. We will get the Kentucky's, Arkansas', and Vanderbilt's best efforts because everyone wants to beat number one. Again, that's a different perspective than we're used to, but it's the world we live in. With that in mind, it's important that we take the final six games week by week. And that means both players/coaches and fans alike. We know where we want to be come season's end, but we've still got a long ways to get there. I like to think of the remainder of the season as running a 5k on an uneven sidewalk. If you keep your eyes on the finish line, there's a good chance that you'll trip on one of the joint separations in the concrete, and you'll fall. But if you focus on the steps right in front of you, you have a better chance at getting to your destination unscathed. That's the challenge for MSU--for us--going forward. We're eager to play Alabama and Ole Miss, and that's understandable, because we know those are the two large tests that remain. But it's vitally important that we don't overlook Kentucky, Arkansas and the others along the route, otherwise we could end up tripping on the sidewalk instead of standing tall with the other teams at the finish line.
2. Don't worry about the things we can't control
Bye weeks are essential for the players because they play a physical game. After MSU's two physical games in a row against Texas A&M and Auburn, the bye week could not have been better timed. But as a fan, it can be frustrating because you know others will impress while your team is not in the picture for the context of that one week. So there's a chance that others could knock us from our seat at the top of the mountain.
I have no clue how the polls will shake out this afternoon, nor do I care. But yesterday's games were a good reminder that MSU does not play in a bubble. Other teams around us will win big games, and there's always a chance that we lose our spot at the top after one of them. While it certainly wouldn't be as much fun to be #2, it doesn't change what we can accomplish this season, and where we want to end up. On the other hand, MSU may not be moved off the top spot; again, it's a complete mystery to
most all of us at this point. But my point remains the same: #1 is fun, but making the playoff is the ultimate goal.
I had the privilege of watching the best game in college football so far this season last night: Florida State vs. Notre Dame. The game was truly a back and forth battle from start to finish, and even though the Irish ultimately lost, they were a toss-up PI call away from owning a road win over the defending national champions. I will admit that I was rooting for the Irish last night for two reasons: 1) The Admiral's son, Notre Dame WR Corey Robinson, is a phenomenal player, and easy to root for because of his dad and how he composed himself after making big plays; and 2) I knew that if FSU got past the Irish, their playoff spot is likely sewn up. The Noles did win, which means we're likely now down to three spots in the playoff. And realistically, don't count Notre Dame out yet. I'll admit that I've championed the case for their being overrated this year, but they proved me wrong last night. And I do think that an 11-1 Notre Dame team will be hard to leave out of the playoff, which again, makes the jumble at the top even more complicated.
But that just goes to reinforce my original point even more: Worry about the things we can control, not the things we can't. If MSU takes care of its business, we will be in the playoff. That's a week by week, step by step process, but we do control our own destiny. Even with a single loss, an SEC team could very well make the playoff, but there are lots of candidates lining up for that position as well. Again, let's take this week by week, and let's control what we can. Because there are a lot of things that are and will continue to happen around us that we can't control. That's just part of it.
3. Enjoy the ride
While I think Danny Kannel is no more than a troll on a leash for ESPN, he was right about one thing: They do not give out trophies for being #1 in week 6, 7, or 8. Sure, it means way more to us because we had never been there before last week, but the goal still remains to be in that position in January, not October. I honestly have no clue how this season will end for MSU. I hope it ends at 15-0, but it could always end at 6-6. The point is not to rain on our own parade; the point is this: Enjoy the ride. Enjoy this week. Enjoy next week. Get hyped for UT-Martin in a few weeks. Don't waste time looking forward to Alabama and the Egg Bowl week, because they will come soon enough. Enjoy each week and our time as the nation's #1 team, because we don't know how long it will last. I believe that Dan Mullen and his staff have a plan in place to make it last longer this season and maybe in future seasons, but nothing in life is guaranteed. So enjoy each week like it's a championship week. And with a little luck and the continued hard work of every one of those talented players who suit up in maroon and white each week, we'll get to celebrate the actual championship week when it comes around.