HOOVER, Ala. — Dan Mullen has established a reputation in Mississippi for being kind of in-your-face with regard to Mississippi State’s primary rival, the Ole Miss Rebels. The Bulldogs are 3-0 against the Rebels during Mullen’s tenure, and State has erected billboards all over the state proclaiming their superiority.
“I think the neatest one was the ‘Three in a Row,’” Mullen said at SEC Football Media Days on Wednesday. “It was [a picture of] our three Miss Mississippis in a row. It had all three of those young ladies with their crowns on. I think that was a pretty cool one.”
The reality is, outside their dominance of Ole Miss, Mullen and Mississippi State haven’t had much more about which to brag. While the Bulldogs are 3-0 against the Rebels, they’re 0-12 against the rest of the SEC West.
Mullen was asked Wednesday if he felt his program was closing that gap on the powers in his division, Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn and LSU.
“I mean, we’ve had an opportunity to beat every one of those teams, right down to the fourth quarter and the last plays of the game,” said Mullen, who is 21-17 at State after last year’s 7-6 mark. “The big difference for us is we have to make those game-winning plays at the end.
“I think three of those teams have won the national championship. . . . The great thing is we’re not that far off from there, which means we’re not far off from the national title.”
The Bulldogs were within a touchdown of LSU when they missed three straight shots at the end zone before eventually succumbing 19-6. They lost to Auburn 41-34 on the road. Alabama and Arkansas beat them 24-7 and 44-17, respectively.
The key, Mullen said, is just “getting that first one.” They play Auburn at home on Sept. 8.
“The first one is so important if you want to compete,” Mullen said. “You’re talking about a two-game swing. If you want to compete for the league championship, it’s critical that you win that first game.”
Being settled at quarterback should help. Mullen has committed to junior Tyler Russell as the starter at quarterback. Russellhad to split time with Chris Relf this past season. Mullen has vowed to open up his spread offense and give the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Russell a chance to throw the ball around more this year.
“I have waited a long time for this,” said Russell, who started four games last season and has passed for 1,669 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in his first two seasons. “I have worked very hard and have become a leader on and off the field and it is finally time for me to be that guy.”
Russell will be helped by the fact the Bulldogs have five senior wide receivers.
“We have guys that have played in games and have that experience and can go get the ball,” Russell said.
MORE COVERAGE FROM DAY 2 OF SEC MEDIA DAYS (MORE TO COME ALL AFTERNOON):
FULL AJC COVERAGE FROM DAY 1 OF SEC MEDIA DAYS: