Dan Mullen’s first season as head coach at Mississippi State was 2009. The Bulldogs opened that season with a 45-7 rout of Jackson State.
In 2010 and 2011, Mississippi State opened against Memphis, routing the Tigers 49-7 in Starkville, then winning 59-14 in Memphis. Last season, the Bulldogs returned to Jackson State as the opening foe and won 56-9.
Now things change. Mississippi State plays 13th-ranked OSU on Saturday in Houston’s Reliant Stadium. And Mullen is embracing the moment.
“This is a great game for us,” Mullen said. “The opportunity to play in a game like this is special, no matter the outcome. For us, it is a great honor to get invited to play in this game. Shows where our program has come from.”
From where it’s come is just one winning season between 2000 and 2010 (8-5 in 2007) to consecutive seasons of 9-4, 7-6 and 8-5. Mississippi State’s three most recent bowls were a 52-14 rout of Michigan in the Gator (2010 season), a 23-17 victory over Wake Forest in the Music City (2011) and a 34-20 loss to Northwestern in the Gator (2012).
The made-for-TV and put-together-by-TV matchup does indicate that the Bulldogs have increased their attractiveness.
“I know our guys, to open the season this way on national television, against the team ranked 13th in the country, it’s a pretty special way to start the season,” Mullen said. “Our coaching staff is ready to get it kicked off, our team is ready to get it kicked off and we’re ready to go play.”
OSU is several upgrades from Jackson State and Memphis. The Bulldogs will have to approach this season opener differently.
“I think what you have to do is take out your margins for error,” Mullen said. “A lot of the times you’re looking, especially Game One, is what we’re trying to get accomplished. How we’re trying to break in young players. Let’s have a special plan maybe to break in young players. I think it’s a little harder in this game in what amounts to a big time game from Day One.
“You’re treating this game like you would a game in November, when you’re competing for the conference championship. It’s that level of deal. I think sometimes in your preparation, you’re looking past what we need to do in Game One to make sure we get in everything we need to get in, and that switches to what we have to do to win the game. Not that you don’t want to win those other games, but I think there’s a lot less margin for error and flexibility to do those things.”