Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a member and past president of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year 10 times and has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
Like It Is:
Mullen gives Mississippi State a chance
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen checks on the condition of an injured player during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Kentucky at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014. Mississippi State beat Kentucky 45-31. (AP Photo/David Stephenson)
As one might expect, some of the tradition at Mississippi State is directly related to games against arch rival Ole Miss.
It is told, repeatedly in some circles, that after a decisive victory over the Rebels in 1905, the students rejoiced by having a military funeral for Ole Miss' dead athletic spirit, complete with casket.
Another story is how the cowbells became the preferred noise-maker by MSU students and alums.
It seems during a thrashing of Ole Miss in the late 1930s that a cow, which was wearing a bell, wandered onto the field. Believing the cow had brought the Bulldogs luck, a cow, wearing a bell, was brought to every home game for several years.
Apparently it became easier to bring a cowbell to the games, and that practice was adopted by the student body. In time, legions of Bulldogs fans also cheered the players on with cowbells.
Last year, the Bulldogs became the answer to a trivia question that will live forever. Who was the No. 1 team in the first College Football Playoff poll? Mississippi State -- a spot it held for the first three weeks. On consecutive weekends the Bulldogs beat No. 7 LSU, No. 6 Texas A&M and No. 2 Auburn.
At 9-0 and getting national attention the Bulldogs went to Bryant-Denny Stadium and were beaten 25-20 by Alabama. They would not be No. 1 again, giving that honor to the Crimson Tide. They bounced back to beat Vanderbilt 51-0, but the Bulldogs lost at Ole Miss and to Georgia Tech in the Capital One Orange Bowl.
Add that to key losses on defense and offense -- there are four returning starters on each side of the ball -- and the Bulldogs were picked to finish last in the West Division last week at SEC football media days.
It wasn't shocking. Especially not considering they have the fewest returning starters in the SEC.
Dak Prescott is the preseason first-team All-SEC quarterback, but he's not Superman.
Head coach Dan Mullen hasn't grabbed the headlines that his in-state rival, Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss, has when it comes to recruiting classes. But Mullen is tireless and still has good contacts in Florida, where he was an assistant for the Gators until taking the MSU job.
Freeze's past three recruiting classes ranked No. 7 in 2013, No. 19 in 2014 and No. 21 last season (and some State fans point to that being a trend in the wrong direction).
In those same years Mullen was No. 26, No. 37 and last season jumped up to No. 16, which means he's going to have some very talented true freshmen on campus whom he might have to count on this season. He mostly has had better recruiting classes than expected.
Mullen, who surprised the media by wearing custom-made shoes that had MSU all over them, is not a touchy-feely guy, but his team plays hard for him. He's much like Urban Meyer, the man he coached for at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida, where he became the offensive coordinator.
The Bulldogs schedule is not so difficult to think they won't make it to a bowl for Mullen's sixth consecutive time, which is easily a school record for consecutive bowl appearances. The previous record was two.
MSU opens at Southern Mississippi, then gets an early statement game when it hosts LSU. It has Northwestern State at home before going to Auburn. Then the Dogs are at Texas A&M before a three-game homestand against Troy, Louisiana Tech and Kentucky to close out October.
They finish at Missouri, play host to Alabama, travel to Arkansas and get the Rebels in Starkville.
That looks like 7-5 or maybe 8-4.
What it really looks like is Dan Mullen has established a winning tradition at a school that loves tradition and history.
Sports on 07/23/2015
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