Mississippi State is the 3rd-best college football team in the country. Let me repeat, the Mississippi State Bulldogs are the third-ranked program in the country and the center of the college football universe.
I’ll be honest in saying: I never thought I’d see the day.
To put that statement into context, I have to take the writer hat off for a minute and talk about my time as a fan of Mississippi State or “State” to those from Mississippi.
I wasn’t always a Mississippi State fan. I knew nothing of them until my brother walked into the house boasting that he got J.J. Johnson’s autograph. I vividly remember thinking, who is J.J. Johnson? Not in the good way, either.
Eventually, I started to follow Mississippi State when my older sister began to attend Mississippi State. I found out who J.J. Johnson was…possibly the best running back that had to come through Mississippi State(May still be). And so I became a Bulldog.
I was blessed early on as a fan. I got to see the Bulldogs go on an improbable 8-0 run in 1999, which saw the “Dawgs” win several games in spectacular fashion (Thanks Matt Wyatt). They finished 10-2 with a Peach Bowl win.
The Bulldogs went bowling again in 2000. And then began my most excruciating time as a fan of the team hailing from Starkville. Over the next six years, the Bulldogs didn’t have one winning season and compiled a putrid 17-52 record. One of those losses included an embarrassing loss to FBS opponent: Maine. Freaking Maine. The program I loved had become a joke. It didn’t help that I was a student at Mississippi State, either.
Fast forward to 2007, the Sylvester Croom-led Bulldogs put together a winning season, which was capped with a Liberty Bowl victory over Central Florida. A game I attended with my Aunt Florence, a fellow Mississippi State alum and fan. (It’s a memory I will always cherish–as that Aunt recently passed away.)
I thought we were about to turn the corner. I was wrong. One off-season shooting incident stripped the Dawgs of four top performers. It’s a loss that couldn’t be absorbed. The next season the Bulldogs won only four games. Croom, the first black coach in SEC history, was fired.
In came Dan Mullen, the offensive “guru” who was supposed to turn the Bulldogs into a national contender or at least Mississippi State fans pretended we thought he could get the program to that level.
The “Yankee” from New Hampshire got off to a solid start. He achieved a 5-7 record in his first season–defeating Ole Miss in the “Egg Bowl” and excited the crowd by saying that “Mississippi State was the program on the rise” in the State of Mississippi. It’s became the battle cry for Bulldog fans. We were on the rise to the top and Dan Mullen would lead us there.
While Mullen led the Bulldogs to four-straight bowl games, it seemed he would never deliver on his promise. It’s something that wasn’t lost on me. I went so far as to write a column stating that “Mullen Must Change His Ways” if he is to turn the Bulldogs into a contender.
The 2014 season was a true “Now or Never” year for Mullen. He had his guys and had to deliver. Finally, after years of disappointments, the Dawgs got over the hump. They didn’t just beat national powerhouse LSU but destroyed them. They didn’t stop there.They easily disposed of Texas A&M, another top-10 opponent.
Bulldog fans who dealt with years of anguish had something not just be excited about but boast about. It still feels surreal. The Bulldogs have the Heisman front-runner (Dak Prescott), are a favorite in the new college football playoff and share the Sports Illustrated cover with Ole Miss. It feels like something that would only happen on the now debunk NCAA Football video game. But it’s actually happening.
As much as I’d love to get excited, Tweet and “Flex for the Gram”(And I have) over MSU’s early-season run, I have to put the writer hat back on and assess the Bulldogs’ realistic chances of winning the National title.
Realistically, The Bulldogs have a real shot at winning the first college football playoff. They have all the ingredients: great quarterback play, a balanced offense, good depth and a stout defense.
The one Achilles heel that could come back to haunt the Bulldogs is the fact that they are susceptible to the big play through the air. They’re giving up 328.2 passing yards per game. That’s not going to get it.
Luckily, the Bulldogs don’t face a dominant passing team until they face off against Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, which very well decide the SEC West and SEC for that matter. Talk about something I never thought I’d see.
I don’t think anyone thought this day would come. But it’s here now. Moments like these don’t come around often.
Soak it in, embrace it and enjoy the ride.
J.Short’s Hot Takes
- Brandon Holloway’s emergence Saturday gives Mississippi State something it sorely needed: a game breaker. The Bulldogs haven’t had a game one in the Mullen Era. He makes an explosive offense…even more explosive. The Dawgs finally have a guy that can get the corner and break the long run with a small crease.
- Joe Morrow, I wrote you off but you’ve made some plays this season. I see ya young buck. Keep shining.
- Salute to Ben Beckwith for stepping up in Dillon Day’s stead on Saturday.
- I’ve really been hard on Kaleb Eulls throughout his career. But he’s sold out as the one-technique defensive tackle this season. I see ya.
- I challenged Benardrick McKinney after the first game–asking him to play like an All-American. And he has the last four games. Now I want to challenge Chris Jones, who was a preseason All-American, to step his game up. 12 tackles and two sacks isn’t going to get it. I need to see more.
- I’ll put it simply: Mississippi State defensive backs, man up. The way you’ve played this season is an absolute disgrace. You’re too talented as a unit to get gashed the way you have every week.
J.Short’s Final Take
I had to take a moment to say how proud I am to be from the State of Mississippi right now. Two Mississippi teams are on the cover of Sports Illustrated…SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. It became too real when a co-worker, who supports Ole Miss, came to my classroom and just asked: “Have you seen the Sports Illustrated cover?” I just smiled and opined: Yes, I had. That’s how awesome it is that the State of Mississippi dominates the headlines in college football.
*This column was dedicated to my Aunt Florence McGowan. She recently passed away–succumbing to Breast Cancer on September 8th, 2014. R.I.P. Aunt Flo
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Jeremiah Short, Peach State College Sports Contributor