HOOVER, Ala. – When Dan Mullen walks into a recruit’s house, he can offer the chance to compete for a championship, the opportunity to play in the NFL, and he can tell them with certainty that they will graduate.
"I think it is just more of a reality that you can sit and tell the parents and say 'this is our program, this is how we develop people and here are the results.' And it’s easy to see," Mullen told ESPN.com prior to a stop on the university’s Road Dawgs Tour.
It wasn’t so easy to see seven years ago when Mullen first arrived at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs had only one winning season from 2001 to 2008, the year he took over.
After going 5-7 in Year 1, Mullen has since led Mississippi State to five straight bowl games, and this past season, his squad full of two- and three-stars was ranked No. 1 at one point and still had a chance to make the College Football Playoff all the way up until the season finale.
As a result, five players were selected in the NFL draft, including two -- Preston Smith and Benardrick McKinney -- in the second round. Seven others from that team signed free agent deals as undrafted rookies. That’s 12 Mississippi State players from last season who are now in the NFL.
But what Mullen is most proud of and what he brings up first in conversation is how many kids he graduated from the 2014 team. When Mississippi State played the Orange Bowl, 19 of the 21 graduating seniors had already graduated. Counting the underclassmen who declared early, the only player who has yet to graduate is McKinney. But Mullen says the junior is only a semester away from doing so.
The chance to compete for a championship? Check. The opportunity to play in the NFL? Check. And knowing you will graduate? Check.
"On a national standpoint, obviously winning last year with players going to the NFL, we’ve become a higher-profile program," Mullen said. "I don’t know how that’s going to translate in the results of recruiting, but in the big picture, there are kids around the country that are interested in Mississippi State right now.
"There weren’t a lot of kids in Arizona interested in Mississippi State before. Now you get that offer and that’s a different looking offer than it used to be."
In this day and age where recruits take to Twitter to brag about new offers, Mississippi State (complete with the bulldog emoji) have become popular. In just the past year, ESPN 300 recruits from New Jersey to Indiana to Texas all the way to Hawaii have tweeted about their offers from Mullen and his staff.
Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano; Oradell, New Jersey
Wide receiver Austin Mack; Fort Wayne, Indiana
Offensive guard Michael Eletise; Honolulu, Hawaii
Now this doesn’t mean Mississippi State will sign all of these players -- Guarantano has since committed to Tennessee -- but the word is out and recruits are interested.