Raise your hand if before the season you picked Mississippi State to start the year 6-0. Anyone? Bueller? No one, just as I suspected.

Now raise your hand if you had Dan Mullen, who entered the season with 15 straight losses to ranked teams, as your SEC Coach of the Year. Still no one? That makes sense.

Mullen had no business being in the Coach of the Year discussion before the season began. He hadn’t beaten a ranked opponent since 2010, and hadn’t won more than eight games in a regular season in any of his first five years at Mississippi State.

At the midpoint of this season, however, Mullen is not just a part of the Coach of the Year race. He’s at the front of the pack.

Mullen is already 75 percent of the way to his high-water mark of eight wins with half the season still remaining, and he’s beaten more top 10 teams in his last three games than he had in his entire career as a head coach prior to this year.

But those are just numbers. What’s most impressive is how Mullen has achieved those numbers this season.

He’s led a Mississippi State squad that was unranked a month ago to its first No. 1 ranking ever, and he’s done so by developing two- and three-star prospects into four- and five-star talents by the end of their college careers. Mullen’s team returned more starters from last year than any other team in the conference, meaning he’s had more time to develop his players than any other coach in the SEC.

That has been a huge advantage for Mullen, as the whole of Mississippi State’s team is far greater than the sum of its parts. Whenever that happens, it’s almost always the result of great coaching.

Mullen took Dak Prescott in as a quarterback when most wanted him as a tight end or safety, and in Prescott’s first season as the full-time starter he’s emerged as the frontrunner in the Heisman Trophy race. Mullen has already coached one Heisman-winning quarterback in Tim Tebow, and now has a chance to claim a second in Prescott, who owes all his collegiate success to the only head coach in the SEC to give him a chance.

Other stars like Josh Robinson and De’Runnya Wilson have come out of nowhere this year to star for the No. 1 Bulldogs. These are not players oozing with five-star talent who were heavily pursued by dozens of schools. Instead, they’re relatively anonymous athletes that Mullen developed into productive weapons in the SEC.

It’s hard to argue with Mullen’s record of player development. After all, every current MSU alum in the NFL except one (Tommy Kelly) played at least one year under Mullen in Starkville. He has a history of turning good athletes into great players, and it’s hard to believe it’s taken him this long to experience this kind of success with the Bulldogs.

Wait, then why did it take Mullen so long to translate his player development into wins on the field? The truth is, Mississippi State has always had the talent to compete in the SEC. The difference this year is Mullen’s approach to big games.

Prior to the current season, it was an established narrative that Mullen could beat unranked opponents but could never rise up  to win games against the SEC’s elite. The common thread through all of those losses to ranked foes was over-thought by Mullen. He’d get away from his team’s bread and butter, and would make uncharacteristic decisions in big moments. Even if his team was good enough to win, Mullen wasn’t a good enough head coach to win.

It’s safe to say Mullen is a good enough head coach now. He’s stuck with his team’s greatest strength — the run game — in all three wins over top 10 teams, and he’s allowed his defense to stick to its identity as unit led by its ferocious front seven. He’s let his Bulldogs be who they are, and rather than trying to out-coach his opponent, he’s simply managed his team and stuck to what works.

Mullen reverted to his old habits in MSU’s most recent win over then-No. 2 Auburn. Leading 21-0 in the first quarter with the ball deep in his own end, the head coach elected to run a fake punt that would fail miserably. The failed fake punt sparked an Auburn comeback, and the Tigers nearly stunned the Bulldogs in the fourth quarter. Why did Mullen call the fake punt? Because that’s what he used to do in big games.

But what did Mullen do from that moment on? He got back out of the way and let his team do what it does. Eventually, Mississippi State hung on to win and now it sits atop the college football universe with the No. 1 ranking.

This change in approach, coupled with his usual success in player development, have created the perfect storm in Starkville. Mullen seems to have finally found the avenue to success, and he’s blossomed into the best coach in the SEC so far this year.

There are still seven weeks left this season, but if Mullen keeps this up his team will be SEC West champs and he will be the easy choice for SEC Coach of the Year.