Following Mississippi State's dramatic overtime win over rival Ole Miss to reclaim the Egg Bowl, Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen stopped to do a little lobbying for his Bulldogs.
“We finished ahead of the school up north," Mullen said. "Not overall but conference record (we were) both 3-5 and we won the head-to-head so I hope the league looks at that,” Mullen said.
“Hopefully the league gives us the nod, and we get the higher bowl game.”
A couple of weeks ago, Mullen's team was fighting for a bowl berth. A month ago, people thought Mullen was fighting for his job.
Now, Mullen is lobbying for a better bowl than Ole Miss. Funny how things change so quickly, but in a game that Mullen and his Bulldogs absolutely needed, Mississippi State stunned its archrival with a 17-10 win after injured quarterback Dak Prescott lunged into the end zone in overtime and will be going bowling for a school-record fourth straight year.
For a coach who had to battle criticism for most of the Bulldogs' 6-6 regular season, Mullen is sitting pretty in Starkvegas. His team is back in the postseason and all that silly talk about his job being on the line can take a backseat. Mullen's place doesn't seem so shaky anymore. This was certainly a trying year for Mullen and his crew, but he's doing something tradition big-name SEC teams like Florida and Tennessee won't be doing: bowling.
Once again, it's tough to count Mullen out.
Mullen had to replace a handful of starters on offense and defense before the season. His receiving corps and defensive backfield were both drained heading into 2013 and he faced a schedule this fall that started with a trip to Houston to face No. 21 Oklahoma State and ended with three road games in the month of November. Two of those road games were at No. 14 South Carolina and No. 15 Texas A&M.
There was also a home game against No. 1 Alabama crammed into that November gantlet.
The Bulldogs came away with losses to all five ranked teams they played this season, while having to play three different quarterbacks, including true freshman Damian Williams. Unrest ran rampant as the losses piled up and hopes of the postseason began to slip. A game against Arkansas in Little Rock and the season finale against Ole Miss set up as the final two missing pieces to the postseason.
Win them, and the Bulldogs were in. And that's exactly what they did, as they went to overtime in back-to-back weeks to pull off a fantastic end to an up-and-down year.
Mullen now has a 35-28 record with the Bulldogs and should pick up some much-needed recruiting steam after a win over the Rebels and a bowl berth. Mullen's late-season rally shows that he hasn't lost the step people assumed during the Bulldogs' struggles.
Was this Mullen's best team? Not even close, but it was one that didn't quit when the season was on the line and appeared over. It played No. 1 Alabama tough and its defense surprised people with a pretty solid last two months of play, especially in the last three games of the season, including the 20-7 loss to the Crimson Tide.
Coaching helps that effort. Development comes from coaches. Two wins with your back against the wall come from coaching.
Mullen's last three teams haven't looked as sharp as the one that won nine games in 2010 and dismantled Michigan in the Progressive Gator Bowl, and recruiting challenges have increased with the emergence of Hugh Freeze and the Rebels, but he now has won three of the last four against the program that he calls the school up north. He's headed back to the postseason and his program has life and momentum.
There's still plenty of work for Mullen to do going forward and six or seven wins won’t be acceptable every year. He knows that, and he knows that his team has to get better going forward, but a finish like the one to the 2013 regular season shows that the rumors of his demise were greatly exaggerated.