Under Dan Mullen, Mississippi State has opened seasons against Jackson State and Memphis. Those games were easy wins for the Bulldogs.
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 and three straight bowl appearances. This 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.”
The upgrade from Jackson State and Memphis to OSU, Mullen said, requires a change in approach.
“I think what you have to do is take out your margins for error,” he said. “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.”
TRACY MOORE MEANS BUSINESS
A foot injury robbed Tracy Moore of much of his 2012 season.
Still, he gained a lesson.
“I learned that everything can be taken in one play, so play every moment like it's your last,” said the senior wide receiver. “Even in practice, taking plays off and stuff like that, I don't do that anymore. It's full speed every play.
“I don't think the defense likes it too much, but I really don't have a choice. I'd rather be doing that than not doing it.”
RECORD KEEPING: MSU OPENERS
The Bulldogs are opening against a ranked opponent for the seventh time in school history.
Previously, it hasn't gone well, with MSU 1-5 and riding a five-game losing streak in such matchups.
The Bulldogs are 11-19 in openers against teams from BCS conferences. They are 4-4 in openers against BCS squads not in the SEC.
NEW TAILBACK, SAME APPROACH
The Cowboys will feature a new, albeit familiar face at tailback in Jeremy Smith.
Having played understudy to Joseph Randle the past two seasons, Smith gives the position a slightly different look.
And yet, OSU offensive lineman Parker Graham said he expects more of the same in terms of production.
“I don't think it's any different,” Graham said. “Jeremy's a good back, he's been playing here the past couple of years and proving that. He's gotten dinged up every now and again, but he's kept coming back and he's kept getting stronger.
“He's a guy who will run over you, will run around you …”
And Graham said there's much to like about Smith off the field.
“He's kind of a quiet guy, but Jeremy's one of the funniest guys on the team,” Graham said. “He laughs at everything. You can get him to smile at just about anything, and he's got one of those $100 million smiles.
“And he's one of the nicest guys on the team. If I had a little sister, I would want her to date a guy like Jeremy. He definitely brings character to this football team.”
BY JOHN HELSLEY AND BERRY TRAMEL