Much of the talk throughout the SEC, and around the entire country for that matter, is centered on Ole Miss and Hugh Freeze – and rightfully so, after his monster recruiting class. But let’s not forget about that other in-state school Mississippi State, who owned the Magnolia State for the last three years prior to 2012.
2013 is a crucial and critical season for the direction of MSU’s program under Dan Mullen. State’s fantastic 7-0 start propelled them to No. 11 in the BCS, but it pales in comparison to the dismal 1-5 finish in their last six. MSU fans may call it a monumental collapse; I would call the hot start having everything to do with a weak schedule. Jackson State, Troy, South Alabama and Middle Tennessee aren’t exactly the stellar squads that mentally and physically prepare any team for the rigors of the in-conference gauntlet. The sexy start prompted the #WeBelieve hashtag before heading to Tuscaloosa. And you know what happened from there.
Something had to change, and something did change when Mullen named Geoff Collins new defensive coordinator before Chris Wilson bolted to become Georgia’s new defensive line coach. One of the most veteran defenses in the SEC looked lost down the stretch under Wilson. MSU allowed more than 500 yards of total offense against Troy, TAMU and Ole Miss. Collins is a much more aggressive play caller, which should make a difference next season.
The offense, too, led by Mullen and Les Koenning played uninspired football down the stretch. The running game failed to reach 100 yards against Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU and Ole Miss, and the play calls didn’t cater to quarterback Tyler Russell’s strengths. Mullen needs to energize his offense and become more innovative in his play calling, something he was known for at Utah and Florida.
Still, amidst all the smoke and letdown, there is a reason for optimism. And while the rest of the country’s praise and adoration are headed to Oxford, it’s MSU that has finished with back-to-back top 25 recruiting classes; it’s MSU that signed more top prospects in the state of Mississippi this season. Ole Miss finished ranked in the 40s last recruiting class in Freeze’s first couple of months on the job. But MSU has put together strong back-to-back classes. That bodes well for the future.
Mullen is building the core of his team and signing prospects who are difference-makers on the defensive line. The state’s top overall prospect in five-star defensive end Chris Jones signed with MSU, after he flirted with Ole Miss towards the end of the process. Last season, Mullen signed JUCO star Denico Autry and two high school four-star defensive tackles in Nick James and Quay Evans. He also signed four-star defensive end AJ Jefferson in the same class. That’s four top defensive linemen in two straight classes, and it will pay dividends not only this season, but for 2014 as well.
MSU also signed one of the top athletes in the state in Ashton Shumpert, who just happens to be Mississippi’s Gatorade Player of the Year. Shumpert is listed as an athlete in some services, as well as a safety in others, but he’s a dynamic running back, too. He’s talented enough to play either position.
MSU also signed the top offensive lineman in the state of Mississippi in 6-5, 300-pound offensive tackle Jake Thomas. And State is known for developing offensive linemen.
Sure, MSU’s 2013 class didn’t have the star power of Ole Miss’, but back-to-back top 25 classes and signing more top in-state prospects bode well for the future.
Mullen’s future and tenure at MSU could be defined in 2013.
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