Category Archives: SEC Football

Photo via Sports Illustrated

Hugh Freeze and Dan Mullen Should Never Leave Mississippi

Mississippi football has played second fiddle (or maybe last fiddle) in the SEC since Johnny Vaught hung up his whistle over 40 years ago.  Coach Bear Bryant and Gene Stallings made sure Alabama football was the king in SEC play in the 80s and 90s, and more recently; Nick Saban and Les Miles have kept the under-dogs at bay.

Reports hint that all this may soon change and Hugh Freeze and Dan Mullen could be in a prime position to take over the void left by such legendary head coaches.

After starting the season on a red-hot 7-0 start the wheels have fallen off the Leonard Fornette train and fans have had enough of the one-dimensional offense in Baton Rouge.

Nick Saban, long considered the best “hired gun” in college football is again being courted by Texas and the NFL.

The two young coaches in Mississippi are primed to take a leap forward should Saban and Miles move on from their current seats.

As dominate as the LSU and Alabama programs have been through the years, they are not guaranteed success.  You still have to have the right coach to win even at the school that Forrest Gump built.

Ask Mike Shula or Dennis Franchione about how easy it is to win in Tuscaloosa.  Gerry Dinardo and Curly Hallman had equal struggles with the recruiting juggernaut that is LSU.

The odds of replacing the win totals of Saban and Miles would be quite a gamble for their respective athletic directors.

Freeze and Mullen suddenly have options to consider beyond taking the next step to a bigger football program.

They could possibly stay in Mississippi and become the next big football programs if Bama and LSU struggle for a few years finding the man to replace the man.

Ole Miss and State are recruiting better than ever before and if Freeze and Mullen are some of the better known coaching names in the SEC west in the future, look for that to improve even more.

The difference between winning 10-11 games every year as opposed to winning 8-9 games every year is handling LSU and Alabama.

I hope Freeze and Mullen realize they have a chance to fulfill any goal they could ever want right here in the state of Mississippi.

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MSU’S STAYING POWER AND THE THE MEDIA’S FALSE PERCEPTION’S

 

For several weeks now, I’ve read so many articles that explain why MSU will finish 6th or 7th in the SEC Western division.

I read these same articles last preseason. I’ve read a lot of “MSU just doesn’t have enough to compete in 2014″, and “Mullen has not recruited well enough to win big in Starkville.” Well, we all know how that ended, don’t we?

As I scan over the 2015 preseason articles, it amazes me how they always begin with “this MSU team lost too many starters to repeat the 2014 season” and end with “the MSU staff just has not recruited well enough to lose that much talent and compete again in 2015″

For one, that’s the media being extremely lazy. Last year it was “Dan Mullen could not win big because he hadn’t recruited well enough,” and now it’s “he can’t win because the Bulldogs lost too much talent”.

Well, according to recruiting gurus and the star ranking system, the players replacing last years starters in 2015 are far more talented, aren’t they?

Help me out here. It can’t be both ways, so which is it? Something just isn’t adding up.

Secondly, this MSU team returns the undisputed best quarterback in the SEC, and possibly in the entire nation. That itself should count for something, right?

Nope, not with today’s media, which is either lazy or blind. You make the call.

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Last but not least, when you actually take the time and do a little research, the Bulldogs didn’t lose as many starters as it might seem. At first glance, most don’t realize that. So, I appeal to the media with this: “Dig a little deeper, guys, it’s not that hard.”

Will we win the SEC? Probably not. In my opinion, however, our chances are greater this year than they were last year. Dan Mullen has silently built a program that will have sustained success. I’m going to go ahead and predict that the world will realize exactly that fact in 2015.

And because nine out of ten media members are lazy, I’ve decided to dig a little deeper for you. You can thank me later. Actually, just wait until the 2015 season has come to a close. I’ll accept your, “thank you” then.

OFFENSE –

Starter lost:
Blaine Clausell: 2*

Replacement:
Martinas Rankin 4* or
Rufus Warren 3*

MY TAKE:
Losing a 4 year starter at left tackle normally isn’t the best thing in the world to have happen, but Rankin comes in as a highly rated juco prospect, and Warren had a very solid spring. Rankin was not able to secure the left tackle position during the spring.

Trust me, it’s not because he’s a bust. Rufus isn’t going to go away that easily. The kid has the size and athleticism to play in the NFL. He gained much needed experience last season after moving over from tight end. Left tackle will be a strength in 2015.

Starter lost:
Ben Beckwith 0* walkon.

Replacement:
Devon Desper 3*

MY TAKE:
Ben may not have even started a game last year if Jamal Clayborn had not been injured and hadn’t had a few personal issues on top of that. Don’t misunderstand me. Ben did a fabulous job, but Desper has much more upside and even started against Texas A&M last year. Desper graded out very well in that game. He’s no newcomer to SEC football.

Starter lost:
Dillon Day 2*

Replacement:
Jamaa Clayborn 3*

MY TAKE:
Jamaal has started before so this will not be anything new to him. This guy has tremendous upside. Jamaal will be a stud in 2015, if not an all-SEC performer. Day was a terrific player for the Bulldogs and a tough son-of-a-gun, but his talent level doesn’t compare to that of Jamaal Clayborn. I’m very high on this young man.

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Starter lost:
Robert Johnson 4*

Replacement:
Fred Brown 3* or
Joe Morrow 3* or
Donald Gray 4*

MY TAKE:
This position is loaded. Actually every wide receiver position is loaded in 2015. Did anyone ever think that they would see the day where the rebels and Bulldogs had the top two wide receiver units in the SEC? I know I didn’t, but that could very well be the case in 2015. Fortunately we have the best quarterback in the SEC throwing it to ours.

Any three of these guys could start here next year. Gray has the most upside, but he’s the least experienced one. Morrow will be the starter much like Robert was in 2015 (only on the depth chart). Morrow came up big the last few games of the year, but Gray and Brown are the future here, and that future is bright.

Starter lost:
Jameon Lewis 2*

Replacement:
Fred Ross 4*

MY TAKE:
This is a massive upgrade. Again, unless you have done your homework, then you wouldn’t know this. Ross is the reason Jameon never gained his normal playing time after he healed last year. Fred Ross is a stud. Do not be surprised if he’s an All-SEC performer and our best receiver in 2015. I know that’s a bold statement with a guy like De’ Runnya Wilson on your team, but it could pan-out to be true.

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Starter lost:
Malcolm Johnson 2*

Replacement:
Gus Walley 3* or
Darrion Hutcherson 3* or
Shelby Christy 3* or
BJ Hammond 3*

MY TAKE:
There are tons of options here, but Malcolm was very good. Walley is a better pass catcher than Malcolm, but Malcolm was a good football player with a high IQ. This is the toughest loss on offense by a wide margin. We “might” lose a little here, but then again we might not.

Starter lost:
Josh Robinson 3*

Replacement:
Ashton Shumpert 4* or
Aeris Williams 4* or
Dontavian Lee 3*

MY TAKE:
This unit will be a strength in 2015. There is a reason J-Rob lost carries at the end of last year. That reason is Ashton Shumpert. He may not even be the starter by mid season. There is tons of talent at running back, and if you’re a die-hard MSU fan, you know that you should never worry about this position. We are always good here. I don’t expect that to change in 2015.

DEFENSE –

Starter lost:
Jay Hughes 3*

Replacement:
Jamal Peters 4* or
Brandon Bryant 3*

MY TAKE:
Safety was a nightmare for the Bulldogs last year. Injuries, inexperience, and suspensions took its toll by year’s end. I fully expect that to change in 2015. Kivon Coleman locked down one safety position in the spring. His inexperience showed at times last year and at other times he looked very good. I fully expect him to be a different player this year.

At the other safety spot, either Peters or Bryant have superstar potential. Both will be freshmen in 2015, but there’s no denying their gift from God. Don’t be surprised if these two guys aren’t both starting at the safety position by mid season. Safety is a position that will be much improved next year.

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Starter lost:
Bernardrick Mckinney 2*

Replacement:
Richie Brown 3* or
Gerri Green 4*

MY TAKE:
Richie will start and will be a solid linebacker for the Bulldogs before he leaves school, but Gerri Green is the future. This young man is a monster. He has B-Macs size and freak athleticism and he is a sideline to sideline guy. Barring injury, I don’t expect Gerri to stick around for a Senior season. He is that talented. At times we will see both of these guys on the field at the same time. Linebacker, like running back, should never be a concern for any MSU fan.

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Starter lost:
Matt Wells 4*

Replacement:
Zack Jackson 3*
JT Gray 3*
Traver Jung 4*

MY TAKE:
“Cheetah” will be the toughest player to replace on the defense. I expect Zack to be the starter as far as the depth chart goes because he’s a senior, but Gray & Jung are the two who will play the most. They are highly athletic kids with great speed. I’m afraid to say which one will end the year as a starter, but I will say this position is easily three deep.

Starter lost:
Preston Smith 2*

Replacement:
AJ Jefferson 4*

Preston will not be easy to replace, but who outside of the MSU fan base even knew who this guy was last preseason?

His replacement? AJ Jefferson and please remember this name. Much like Preston, he is a very good candidate for a breakout year as a Junior. His motor is non stop and AJ makes up for his size with athleticism. Again, remember the name AJ Jefferson, because I have a good feeling that rival coaches already know the name after the spring that he had.

Starter lost:
Kaleb Eulls 4*

Replacement:
Chris Jones 5*

MY TAKE:
Much like Robert Johnson & several other “starters” on last years depth chart, Kaleb was just that. A depth chart starter. Kaleb did play a whole lot, but there’s no denying that Chris Jones is a major upgrade here. That’s not a shot at Kaleb, because Chris Jones would be an upgrade to almost every other defensive tackle in the SEC. He’s had a solid first two years in Starkville, but in 2015 he puts himself in talks of being a top five or top ten pick. The talent level and tools this young man possess are rivaled by no other defensive tackle in the country. In 2015 you will see just that.

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Starter lost:
PJ Jones 4*

Replacement:
Nick James 4* or
Nelson Adams 3* or
Cory Thomas 3*

MY TAKE:
If spring is any indication of Nick James, then it looks like the switch has flipped. If that carries over, then this is a massive upgrade as well. PJ, like Kaleb had a very solid career at MSU. They provided a lot of experience last year and that was big, but these guys aren’t nearly as talented as their predecessors.

With that said, Nick isn’t a lock to be a starter. Both Nelson Adams and Cory Thomas will have a say in that. Nelson has a non stop motor and is a very difficult match-up whether he’s on the inside or outside. I love to watch him play football.

Cory on the other hand is a Chris Jones clone as far as build and skills. You put the same number on those two and put them on the field at the same time and you probably couldn’t figure out which is which. Am I saying Cory Thomas will be as good as Chris Jones before he leaves Starkville? No. What I am saying is that he has a opportunity to be that good. It will be up to him and what he’s willing to put into it. This guy’s size/speed/athleticism combination is off the charts.

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Okay media, I’ve done the research for you. Now it’s your turn to take it and run. There’s a lot of talent returning in Starkville. In fact I would argue that the 2015 bulldog team is more talented than the 2014 bulldog team. I think I would be correct.

Don’t keep looking at last years depth chart and assume we cannot compete because of the starters we lost. It is quite simply misleading. Don’t be foolish and ignorant. Do your homework and you will know that the number one quarterback in the nation isn’t lacking talent behind him. In fact, he’s the leader of a more talented team. The ball is in your court. Let’s see if you take advantage of it or will you again underestimate MSU, like it is the MSU of the past?

Wake up – not only to the reality of talent on this bulldog team, but to the ability of Dan Mullen and his staff as well or you’ll be looking like foolish, AGAIN!

#HailState

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The Egg Bowl – A deciding factor in the West for years to come!

 

The reality of things is that both schools now have very good football programs. Sure, they are programs with different styles. They have coaches and players with different styles and different back grounds, but the common ground is that they are part of our great state of Mississippi.

One program has a staff that, according to recruiting services, recruits better. The other has a staff that is able to better develop talent. Both have coaches that still make mistakes. They have coaches that have been successful, but both are still young and learning to be “seasoned” head coaches.

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Both fan bases frequently have moments when they want to scream at our head coaches, “What the heck are you doing?” But, that is all just a big part of this metamorphosis our teams are undergoing. The fact is, we are both going to experience success as long as these two men are leading our programs and we are all going to have to collectively calm ourselves. We must adjust to, and learn to cope with the ups and downs. Just like small children blossom into adulthood, the transition from inferior, to mediocre, to quality, to a great football program is a growing process and with that comes “growing pains.” The Egg Bowl is a game that has once again become a very competitive, very heated rivalry where the home team has a distinct advantage. It is no longer a game where one team is head and shoulders above the other.

Yes, there will be years that we are both replacing two or three year starting quarterbacks and there will be some slight struggle to find the next “fit” at that position, but as we have seen this year, all teams occasionally go through those difficulties. There will be those occasional years where we get only 6 or 7 wins, but we are bottom feeders of the SEC no longer. It is time for the rest of the SEC to take notice.

Both fan bases must be patient with their coaches during these years. Both schools have been known to get a little impatient and irrational during downturns, but these are not your Mississippi State and Ole Miss football teams of the past. The fans are becoming accustomed to getting “more.”

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These two programs are being led by intelligent, hardworking men who are passionate about their jobs and who love their respective teams. We must appreciate that, understand what they are trying to accomplish in the “bigger picture”, and continue to support them during their down years just as much as we do during their best years.

The world will take notice soon as the two Southeastern Conference Mississippi teams have built consistent programs…WINNERS! Looking at this in reality, I see neither of these teams being “one-hit wonders”. This has the look of a beginning of something bigger… The look of something completely new. It is something none of us foresaw… Two Mississippi programs that can be considered powerhouses of the SEC rather than bottom feeders.

Folks, enjoy this rivalry while it’s at it’s pinnacle. Love and respect your friends that cheer for the rival school. Have fun with smack talk every chance you get because I can assure you that both sides will get their chances to turn the smack around to the other side. Have fun with the “new” Mississippi State and Ole Miss programs. Don’t turn it into hate. Keep humble and never forget what we have come from to get here.

We may never see two better coaches, or two leaders of this stature at both schools, at the same time, ever again. It might be next year or it may be in five years, but take heart and have patience. We will both witness history before these two coaches are done.

Here is my most sincere congratulations to “The School Up North” for wanting it more on Saturday night than Mississippi State did. You weren’t about to let my Dawgs beat you on your home turf and you did everything you needed to do to win that game. You deserved to win, and you did. Congratulations.

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Mississippi State: America’s team?

Last week, I mentioned to some friends of mine that we are quickly becoming America’s favorite college football team. I really believe that. Our story is real – it isn’t invented in the mind of some writer or TV producer. There aren’t any adoptions of five-star players or the famous names of football aristocracy adorning the backs of our kids’ jerseys. It is real-life kids who have worked their butts off to get where they are today. It is the ultimate Cinderella story of kids who were overlooked by the other colleges across the country.

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It’s about kids with winning attitude and ability to work hard to create their own version of the “American Dream” despite the fact that they were written off as “not quite good enough” by the big boys of college football. These are kids who have an agenda – who are playing with an enormous chip on their shoulder.

When Dan Mullen was hired at MSU he walked into what was undoubtedly the most challenging position in the SEC. He’s done an amazing job of getting us to where we are today simply because he came to Starkville with a plan and stuck to it. Some believed while others doubted, but all the while, Dan stayed the course. He talked about winning championships even while some of his own fans rolled their eyes in disbelief that anything so wonderful could ever happen for their beloved Bulldogs in Starkville. I mean, we just weren’t THAT lucky. To rival fanbases, his comments were comical and were fodder for jokes. Now, on the heels of a number one ranking in both the AP and Coaches polls, his Championship talk doesn’t seem the least bit laughable anymore.

He’s built this team from the ground up – from scratch. He’s done it with hard work, integrity, and dedication. He didn’t accept any less than the very best from his players both off and on the field. He has ingrained the idea that we are not just a team, but rather, a “family” into every fiber of our being.

He’s been selling all of this for a long time, and it’s finally clicked… his players, his administration, and every single fan has bought-in to Dan Mullen’s Mississippi State University, including the ones who had doubts from the beginning.

From day one Mullen’s staff hit the ground running. They hit up every small town in Mississippi in a quest for the talent that they knew was there. They understood that it wasn’t going to be easy, and they knew that they weren’t going to be able to go into the big schools and start getting commitments from the five star players in the short run. Instead, they adopted a different approach. They learned to look closer…to view players through a different set of lenses. Sure, they were looking for talent, but more importantly, they looked for character and work ethic. They looked for kids with a desire to win and with the willingness to do whatever it took to give their best in all aspects of their lives.

Simply put, our coaches learned to look for the intangible qualities that make people not just good football players, but exceptional individuals both on and off the field. They searched for overlooked in-state talent – “diamonds in the rough” and along the way, they picked up some of those kids in Louisiana and Alabama that had been overlooked by their own local Universities. Then, they redshirted those kids and built up the raw talent in their bodies, and they coached up their minds. In short, it worked and it is paying off big dividends in Starkville.

What this staff has done is nothing short of incredible. Mississippi State has eighteen starters that were rated from zero star to three star, according to scouting services. Let me rephrase that, “The best team in the nation has eighteen of twenty-two starters rated anywhere from zero to three star in high school.” Let that sink-in for a moment.

Everyone doubted Mullen for saying that he was going to build a program in Starkville that would consistently compete for Championships. Everyone told us that it was impossible to do in Starkville. Everyone laughed and jeered. It doesn’t take a genius to see that Mullen’s plan has worked. His plan was to build a program that would not only compete one out of every three or four years, but rather to sustain success.

We are set for years to come at MSU. Dan has not only built a program that will compete for Championships year in and year out; he has built a team that everyone in America can and does love.

Dan Mullen, Mississippi State, and the fans who “believed” have gotten the last laugh…because the joke is on all those people who said it wasn’t possible.

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This is OUR State. This is OUR America. #HailState