Mississippi State fails to cash in on best title chance in a generation
I shouldn’t have to explain why Mississippi State’s loss to Ole Miss in Saturday’s Egg Bowl was so devastating for the Bulldogs and their fans.
The Rebels now own the Golden Egg and bragging rights for a whole year. That’s not going to be pleasant.
And, of course, MSU missed out on at least a chance to lock up a spot in the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff, forfeiting its chance at the school’s first national title.
But the real tragedy in the aftermath of the loss is not the missed opportunities of this season, but how hard it will be to come this close again in the next decade.
Mississippi State returned 16 starters and 21 of its top 22 players on defense. It combined that ridiculous experience with the best player in program history, Dak Prescott, a player who could go pro after this season.
This year’s roster was the perfect storm to compete in the grueling SEC West, and now that storm has passed with nothing to show for it.
The Bulldogs are poised to regress in the coming year. This team is about to hemorrhage talent in the form of a humongous senior class and a slew of talented juniors headed to the league, and that is going to be tough to overcome in the short term.
State will bid farewell to its three best offensive linemen (Ben Beckwith, Dillon Day and Blaine Clausell), its starting tight end (Malcolm Johnson), a starting wide receiver (Jameon Lewis), a starting cornerback (Jamerson Love) and its best defensive lineman (Preston Smith), among others. It could also see Dak Prescott (its best player on offense) and Benardrick McKinney (its best player on defense) go pro this offseason.
The Bulldogs will have to start from scratch in 2015. For many of their key players, there won’t be a chance for redemption at the college level.
Mississippi State must replace a wealth of talent and an even greater wealth of leadership. Damian Williams must earn the trust of what’s left of the offense, and Geoff Collins’ “psycho defense” must find a new identity with a new core group leading the way.
The road back to the top of the SEC won’t be easy. There’s absolutely a chance Dan Mullen uses this season to recruit better players to come to Mississippi State. There’s also a chance he leaves for greener pastures in the next few years.
Mississippi State hadn’t won 10 games and finished the regular season ranked in the top 15 since 1999, and before that it had been since 1940. This may be a new age of college football, but history tells us these kinds of seasons are a flash in the pan for the Bulldogs. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mississippi State won eight games next regular season, but it won’t contend for a national title into the final week.
And therein lies the pain delivered by this loss. It’s a disappointment in the short term, but a colossal missed opportunity in the long term. Auburn can rebound next season; so can a team like LSU or Georgia. But not Mississippi State.
This was a once in a generation opportunity and the Bulldogs let it slip through their fingers against their arch-rival when it was at its lowest point. The loss will sting in the short term, but the real pain will be in the grueling climb back to the top.