In Dan Mullen’s first five seasons at Mississippi State, the Bulldogs struggled to take off. Outside of a nine-win campaign in 2010, Mullen’s teams toiled in the SEC’s no-man’s land.

That changed in 2014, with a 10-win explosion that saw Mullen’s team rise to national prominence. Perhaps the most impressive part of the record-setting season: the Bulldogs did it almost entirely bereft of elite recruits. That appears to be changing.

The four recruiting classes on campus held an average rank of around 11th in the SEC. That’s no great shakes in a conference that regularly places three, four and five teams in the national top 10. The Bulldogs built on their success in 2014 with the best recruiting class of Mullen’s tenure, a group that ranks 18th in the nation and eighth in the SEC, per 247sports’ industry composite.

While that’s still not “elite,” it is one thing: right on par with in-state rival Ole Miss. The 247sports industry composite has the two side-by-side, while recruiting services like Rivals and ESPN have the Bulldogs ahead by several spots. Mississippi State actually pulled in more recruits, 28 to 22, and had six more three-star players than the Rebels while matching them with seven four-star signees.

The jewel, of course, is Leo Lewis, a Brookhaven, Miss. native. Lewis, a former Alabama and Ole Miss pledge, picked the Bulldogs in somewhat of an upset on National Signing Day. There’s concern about whether he’ll be able to get academically and get on the field as a freshman after signing a dual Letter of Intent with a junior college. It should help ease concerns that MSU’s Jamoral Graham did the same thing a year ago and ended up playing a role for the Bulldogs in 2014.

The Bulldogs continued along a trend that’s been present since Mullen took over the program: they won their home state. In the seven recruiting cycles since Mullen was hired in 2009, six times has Mississippi State signed more of the top-20 players in Mississippi than Ole Miss.

In that time, the Bulldogs bring in an average of eight of the top 20, while Ole Miss hovers below them at six per class. State’s in-state dominance continued, as they signed nine of the top 20 to Ole Miss’ three in the 2015 class.

Mullen has made it work with lower-ranked recruiting classes so far, and gave the program what it needed by hauling in his highest-ranked recruiting class following his best season. Now, the Bulldogs have a chance to put their talented recruits up to an important task: taking control of Mississippi on the field as well as on the recruiting trail.