Mississippi State looks to regain edge

HOOVER, Ala. -- When Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen reflects on last season, he thinks the Bulldogs were just a couple of plays from having the kind of season everyone in Starkville was expecting.

As it was, the Bulldogs managed a 7-6 finish, marking the first time they’d finished with back-to-back winning seasons since 1999 and 2000.

Especially in the SEC’s grueling Western Division, it was hardly a disaster. Besides, the combined record of the teams Mississippi State lost to last season was 65-15.

But Mullen does think something was missing -- something he’s seen return this spring and offseason.

“The margin in this league is so small, and I think last year’s team lost a little edge from being patted on the back so much the year before and people telling them it was such a great year,” Mullen said Wednesday.

“It was a great learning experience for our coaches, our players, our student body, our fans. It was a great learning experience for us all. You’ve got to keep your foot on the gas at all times in this league or you’ll take a step back.”

Senior cornerback Johnthan Banks said it’s been a different kind of offseason for the Bulldogs.

“I just don’t think we worked as hard coming off the Gator Bowl [two years ago],” Banks said. “Now we’ve got that chip back on our shoulder that can’t be touched, and we know that’s what it’s going to take.”

One thing that’s a must for the Bulldogs this season is getting off to a good start and taking advantage of what certainly looks like a very manageable schedule through the third week in October.

Mississippi State has five games at home in that stretch, and the only two road games are at Troy and at Kentucky. The home games, in order, are Jackson State, Auburn, South Alabama, Tennessee and Middle Tennessee.

“We can’t wait around to be on top of our game this year,” Banks said.