Dan Mullen’s top 10 wins at Mississippi State

Oct 3, 2015; College Station, TX, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen watches warm ups prior to a game against the Texas A&M Aggies at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

After a big win over No. 4 Texas A&M, Dan Mullen was able to put another big win under belt. So where does it rank among his 58 other wins.

Dan Mullen has taken the Mississippi State Bulldogs to new  heights since his arrival in 2009. They’ve reached six straight bowl games and are hoping for a 7th this year, but will have to win two of their final three games to secure a berth.

Coach Mullen has a 59-39 at Mississippi State. He currently ranks third all time in wins at the school. Allyn McKeen is second on the list with 65, and Jackie Sherrill is first with 75.

So just one more win will get Mullen to 60, and if he decides to stay in Starkville for the 2017 season he’ll surely pass legendary coach Allyn McKeen then.

You can make an argument Dan Mullen is the best coach the school has ever had to lead their football program. Mullen’s winning percentage isn’t as high as McKeen’s but there is plenty of debate about how stiff the competition would have been while McKeen was leading the program and what that competition is like since Mullen arrived.

Mullen’s career path at MSU has been very similar to Jackie Sherrill’s in terms of wins and losses when you consider Mullen has been able to face a FCS team every year in an extra game that JWS didn’t have. Jackie’s eight year, however, gave Bulldog fans a SEC Championship which won’t happen this year under Mullen in year eight. But, the West is a behemoth of a division now that it wasn’t in the 1990s.

So, let’s start this thing off: Dan Mullen’s top 10 wins at MSU….

Nov 23, 2013; Little Rock, AR, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs running back Josh Robinson (34) carries the ball against the Arkansas Razorbacks during the second half at War Memorial Stadium. Mississippi State won 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Number 10: 2013 at Arkansas

Many people did not expect much from the Bulldogs in 2013. Most people saw the Bulldogs finishing with only 4 or 5 wins and Dan Mullen being placed squarely on the hot seat after a disappointing end to the 2012 season.

The setup
Mississippi State had lost 15 of the previous 17 meetings with the Arkansas Razorbacks, and they had never won in the state of Arkansas. Making this game even more important, the Bulldogs entered the game with a 4-6 record and needing wins against both the Razorbacks and the Rebels to get to a fourth straight bowl game under Dan Mullen, something no other head coach had accomplished in school history.

Arkansas entered this game reeling. This was the first year for new Arkansas Razorbacks Head Football Coach Bret Bielema. It was a difficult year for the Hogs, as they had not won a conference game all season long. This game saw the Razorbacks as a slight favorite, and an opportunity to salvage the season.

The result
The game was a slug fest. Arkansas on separate occasions went up by a touchdown, once at 10-3 in the first half, and 17-10 before the start of the fourth quarter.

Complicating matters for the Bulldogs was the fact starting quarterback Tyler Russell was not 100% for this game, and breakout sophomore quarterback Dak Prescott was completely unavailable. Dan Mullen played Tyler Russell for most of the game, and he played very well. But on the touchdown pass from Tyler Russell to wide receiver Jameon Lewis to tie the game, Russell would be injured. This would leave the overtime period in the hands of backup quarterback Damian Williams.

Any question about whether or not the moment was too big for Williams was answered immediately. Williams took the first snap from the Arkansas 25 yard line and scampered 25 yards for the go ahead touchdown. Taveze Calhoun would intercept Arkansas Quarterback Brandon Allen on the ensuing possession for the Razorbacks and secured the first ever win for Mississippi State in the state of Arkansas and kept the bowl hopes alive for Dan Mullen and Mississippi State.

Number 9: 2009 Egg Bowl

We’ve already discussed how Dan Mullen put a renewed emphasis on the Egg Bowl upon his arrival. He spent much of the 2009 finding ways to jab, poke, and prod Ole Miss fans as the 2009 Egg Bowl approached.

The setup
Mississippi State had their bowl hopes dashed the previous week with a loss to Arkansas in Little Rock. The Bulldogs entered the Egg Bowl in 2009 with only bragging rights on the line and the hopes of entering the 2010 season with some positive momentum.

Ole Miss entered the Egg Bowl in 2009 with a slightly disappointing season. The Rebels had climbed as high as number four in the polls before  suffering three losses to bring their season to a somewhat disappointing conclusion. The Egg Bowl could have erased many of those memories. Ole Miss had won the previous week over LSU and a win in the Egg Bowl would have likely sent the Rebels to the Capital One Bowl, which has recently been renamed back to the Citrus Bowl.

The Rebels and their fans had begun to hate Dan Mullen up until this point as well. They had grown tired of the endless talking and perceived disrespect Mullen was showing to their team and school. They viewed this as an opportunity to shut the braggadocios coach up once and for all.

The result
Neither team was able to seize control of the game during the first half of the game. A touchdown pass from Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead to Wide Receiver Shay Hodge right before the end of the first half would send the Rebels to the locker room with a slight 13-10 lead.

It was in the second half of the game where the tide turned. Mississippi State Starting Quarterback Tyson Lee was mostly ineffective in the game, so Dan Mullen would make the switch to Backup Quarterback Chris Relf. Relf was not much of a passer, but in the second half of the game, he wouldn’t need to be.

Relf completed 3 of 5 passes for 43 yards and two touchdowns, but he and Running Back Anthony Dixon carved up the Ole Miss defense on the ground. Dixon ran the football 29 times for 133 yards and a touchdown, but Relf stole the show.

Relf ran 15 times for 131 yards and a touchdown. Every time he had the ball in his hands, the Ole Miss defense looked confused as how to stop him from picking up first downs at will.

The Bulldogs would go on to win 41-27 and it was the first of three consecutive wins for Mississippi State over Ole Miss, something the Bulldogs had not done since the 1940s.

Sep 12, 2015; Gainesville, FL, USA; A general view of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium where the Florida Gators play against the East Carolina Pirates . Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Number 8: 2010 at Florida

2010 was an amazing season for Dan Mullen and Mississippi State. The Bulldogs not only reached a bowl this season, but showed they could be a relevant team in the SEC and the country. The game against the Florida Gators in The Swamp was a big reason for it.

The setup
Mississippi State entered the game against the Florida Gators and the Florida Gators Head Coach Urban Meyer needing to prove they weren’t a fluke. The Bulldogs had compiled a record of 4-2 coming into the game, but many people weren’t quite sure what to make of the Bulldogs up until this point.

Florida was also in desperate need of proving they were not fading away. The Gators were also 4-2 and ranked 22nd in the country by the AP Poll, but had lost two consecutive games to the LSU Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide. A win over the Bulldogs would keep the Gators hopes of a division title alive, while a loss would virtually end any hopes Florida had of reaching the SEC Championship Game.

The result
The game was not pretty by anyone’s definition of the word. Both defenses were playing at a high level, and neither coach wanted to make a mistake that could potentially cost their team a victory. Mississippi State would go up 10-0 before halftime, and Dan Mullen adopted gameplan he believed would do everything possible to seal the game.

Chris Relf only threw the ball 9 times during the game. Mississippi State ran the ball 49 times, and went 24 straight plays at one point where they did not attempt a single pass. Florida would eventually score to make the game 10-7 heading into the 4th quarter.

The score would stay that way, and Florida would have one last drive to try to tie or take the lead. Brantley would move the ball to the Bulldogs 25 yard line before the drive would stall out. The Gators would send out their punter to attempt the 42 yard field goal to tie the game because their starting kicked was out with an injury. The kick would sail wide right and Mississippi State would have their first win in Gainesville since 1965.

Nov 28, 2013; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott (15) advances the ball during the game against the Mississippi Rebels at Davis Wade Stadium. Mississippi State Bulldogs defeat the Mississippi Rebels with a score of 17-10 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Number 7: 2013 Egg Bowl

During the 2013 season, much of the talk about the state of college football in Mississippi centered on Ole Miss and second year Ole Miss Head Football Coach Hugh Freeze. Freeze had signed a historic recruiting class for the Rebels in February of that year, and that coupled with the Rebels win over Mississippi State in 2012 had most believing Ole Miss was well on their way to competing for SEC West supremacy and Mississippi State scrounging around for a way to stay relevant.

The setup
Mississippi State was 5-6 entering the Egg Bowl after an overtime victory over Arkansas during the prior week. If the Bulldogs wanted to go to a fourth consecutive bowl, they needed to beat Ole Miss and they were going to have to do it with their third string quarterback Damian Williams.

Tyler Russell was injured on his final play against Arkansas, and Dak Prescott had been injured at the end of the Texas A&M game earlier in the month of November. Russell was listed as questionable and Prescott had been ruled out by Dan Mullen earlier in the week. Much to everyone’s surprise, Russell showed up to the game in street clothes, and Prescott was in uniform for the game, though Coach Mullen had said Prescott would not play although a Nashville doctor had ruled Prescott was good to go.

Ole Miss came into the game with a very up and down season. The Rebels ended a three game losing streak against LSU earlier in October which sent the Rebels on a four game wining streak. Ole Miss entered their game with Missouri in the next to last week of the season 7-3 and had an opportunity to make a splash with two more wins over the Tigers and Bulldogs. A loss to the Tigers ensured the Rebels would likely end the season outside of the polls, but much like the 2009 season for the Rebels, a win in the Egg Bowl would be the key to a great bowl game or a disappointing one.

The result
Much like the 2010 game against Florida, this game was controlled by the defenses. Damian Williams struggled to move the ball against the Ole Miss defense, and Bo Wallace made numerous mistakes against the defense of Mississippi State.

Mississippi State looked prepared to enter the locker room at the half with a 7-0 lead. The defense had forced Ole Miss to punt right around midfield with a minute left to play in the half. A bad decision to field the punt inside the five yard line by Jameon Lewis gave the Bulldogs terrible field position.

Mullen went into super conservative mode and ran three straight quarterback keepers and lost yardage on every play. On fourth down, Ole Miss brought pressure on the punt, blocked the kick, and recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown.

Ole Miss took the lead in the third quarter on a field goal, and would hold the lead until late in the fourth quarter. The Rebels looked to be in control because Mississippi State’s offense was completely ineffective with Williams at the helm, but Mullen did not want to put Prescott in the game due to his previous injury.

Nov 28, 2013; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace (14) dives for the loose ball in the end zone as Mississippi State Bulldogs defensive back Jamerson Love (5) reaches for the fumble during overtime at Davis Wade Stadium. Mississippi State Bulldogs defeat the Mississippi Rebels with a score of 17-10 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

This would change at the start of the fourth quarter. Williams would throw an ill advised pass which Ole Miss Safety Cody Prewitt would intercept. Prescott informed Mullen he wanted in, and Dak  would begin to warm up on the sideline.

Prescott led the Bulldogs to a late field goal with just over two minutes remaining in the game to tie the game at ten. He led them again to field goal range, before the end of the game, but this time it would not go through the uprights.

In overtime, the Bulldogs would drive to down to 4th and goal from the Ole Miss two yard line. Instead of opting for a field goal, Dan Mullen put the game in the Hands of Dak Prescott.

Prescott kept the football on a quarterback draw and ran straight into the end zone for the go ahead touchdown. Then Ole Miss had their chance to tie or win the game.

The Rebels proceeded to march down the field from the 25 in their possession during overtime. Bo Wallace looked like he had an easy path to the endzone on the final play of the game, but Mississippi State Safety Nickoe Whitley came from behind and knocked the ball free from Wallace’s hands. The ball would bounce into the end zone and be recovered by Jamerson Love to seal the victory and the fourth straight trip to a bowl game for Dan Mullen and Mississippi State.

Sep 12, 2015; Starkville, MS, USA; A Mississippi State Bulldogs helmet sits on an equipment cart during the game against the LSU Tigers at Davis Wade Stadium. LSU defeated Mississippi State 21-19. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Number 6: 2011 Gator Bowl vs. Michigan

The 2010 season was a resounding success for Dan Mullen and Mississippi State. They finished the season with 8 wins, and most thought the Bulldogs would be doing good to get to 7. The Bulldogs were rewarded with a trip to their first New Year’s Day Bowl Game since the 1998 season where they would take on the Michigan Wolverines.

The setup
The Gator Bowl was icing on the cake for the Bulldogs. They had already exceeded many people’s expectations, but a win over a blue blood program like Michigan could go a long way toward keeping some of the momentum created during the season going into 2011.

Michigan entered reeling at 7-5. There were rumors circulating that if Michigan Head Football Coach Rich Rodriguez didn’t win this game, he would likely be fired. While Mississippi State was the favorite entering the game, many thought the Wolverines could pull out a win because of their dynamic quarterback Denard Robinson.

The result
The game was back and forth between the Bulldogs and Wolverines in the first quarter. A late Michigan touchdown to close the quarter would put the Wolverines up 14-10. After that, it was all Mississippi State.

Chris Relf had arguably his most impressive game as a passer for the Bulldogs in this game. He completed 18 of 23 attempts for 281 yards, three touchdowns and just one interception.

On the other side of the ball, Mississippi State locked the Wolverines down and held Michigan scoreless over the final three periods of the game. It gave Mississippi State 9 wins on the season and Rich Rodriguez would eventually be let go as head coach.

Sep 5, 2015; Oxford, MS, USA; general view of the stadium before the game between the Mississippi Rebels and the Tennessee Martin Skyhawks at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Number 5: 2010 Egg Bowl at Ole Miss

Mississippi State and Ole Miss were going in completely different directions when the Egg Bowl rolled around in 2010. Mississippi State was trying to secure a New Year’s Day Bowl, and Ole Miss was just trying to play spoiler like the Bulldogs had done to them a year earlier.

The Setup
Dan Mullen had quickly established his name as one of the up and coming coaches in college football. After leading the Bulldogs to a slightly surprising 5 win season in 2009, Mullen had the Bulldogs on the sup of an 8 win regular season, something the school had not done since the 1998 season when the Bulldogs won the SEC West to advance to the SEC Championship Game.

Ole Miss saw their season get off to a disastrous start when they lost their home opener to FCS school Jacksonville State. Houston Nutt brought in graduate transfer Jeremiah Masoli to ease the loss of Jevan Snead who unwisely entered the NFL Draft the prior season. The Rebels only had 4 wins, and were simply hoping to hold on to home field advantage and pull off an upset.

The result
Ole Miss put up a good fight at the beginning and at the end of the game. It was just in between where they lost the game.

Ole Miss got out to an early 7-0 and then 9-7 lead. Mississippi State would not retake the lead until almost the halfway point of the 2nd quarter. Once they did, they began to take control.

Dan Mullen and the Bulldogs would push their lead out to 31-9 thanks in large part to the play of Chris Relf. Relf didn’t always play well, but when Ole Miss was on the field, he was a like a shark that smelled blood in the water.

The fourth quarter saw Dan Mullen take his foot off the gas after being in control for most of the game. Despite playing as poorly as the Rebels did, Ole Miss had the ball late in the game with one last chance to tie the game trailing by 8.  The Bulldogs would force the Rebels to turn the ball over on downs and sealed the win.

This was huge for two reasons. One, it sealed the Bulldogs invitation to the Gator Bowl on January 1st. And two, it was the first time a road team had won the Egg Bowl since Ole Miss and Eli Manning had come to Starkville in 2003.

Oct 4, 2014; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott (15) throws the ball against the Texas A&M Aggies at Davis Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Number 4: 2014 Texas A&M

The first Saturday in October was a unique day in the state of Mississippi. The day began with the 12th ranked Bulldogs taking on the 6th ranked Texas A&M Aggies. It was immediately followed by the 10th ranked Ole Miss Rebels against the 2nd ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. Both games were played in Mississippi and were easily the biggest games on the schedule.

The setup
Mississippi State had just beaten one top ten team on the road, now they needed to prove it wasn’t a fluke. Dak Prescott was beginning to get whispers as a legitimate Heisman contender, and the Bulldogs had made serious waves in a short amount of time.

Texas A&M had some early impressive wins which slowly began to lose their luster. The Aggies were hoping to make a statement in this game to show they truly were one of the elite teams in the country.

The Result
Mississippi State gave up an early touchdown but never looked back. The Bulldogs took over the game and forced Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill into three interceptions and harassed the Aggie ball carrier every time they touched the football.

At one point, the Bulldogs led the game 48-17. A few late garbage time touchdowns by the Aggies would cut the final deficit to 48-31 in favor of Mississippi State. The game was not nearly as close as the final score would indicate.

Number 3: 2016 vs. Texas A&M

Nov 5, 2016; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs players celebrate with fans after the game against the Texas A&M Aggies at Davis Wade Stadium. Mississippi State won 35-28. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

2016 has been Dan Mullen’s most unusual season. For the first time in his tenure, his team has repeatedly struggled against less talented teams. Many trends from his first seven years have been reversed.

Prior to 2016, Mullen had not lost any games as a heavy favorite. He hadn’t really lost any as a favorite period, but certainly not a 30 point favorite like MSU was against South Alabama.

Mullen was 7-0 against Kentucky, but lost in 2016.

Seemingly every game outside of a few in 2014, Mullen lost when he was an underdog. As a double-digit underdog, he’d never won. But he got his third top 10 win and second top 5 win against Texas A&M in this one.

With Alabama looming next week, it appears the 2016 team will face the same challenge as the 2013 team did: 4-6 heading into the final two games. We’ll see what happens and if Mullen can keep his bowl streak alive.

Sep 20, 2014; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs wide receiver Jameon Lewis (4) celebrates in the endzone after a touchdown against the LSU Tigers during the third quarter of a game at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Number 2: 2014 at LSU

Entering the 2014 season, people thought the Bulldogs might be able to take a slightly smaller step forward under Dan Mullen. but due to the Bulldogs’ performance in big games and how often they came up short, some were hesitant to go out on a limb for the Bulldogs.

The setup
Mississippi State was 3-0 on the young season, but largely untested. The Bulldogs had one of the best opportunities they were ever going to have to make a statement against the LSU Tigers in Death Valley. The Bulldogs had only beaten the Tiger two times since 1991, and Dan Mullen had yet to beat a top 10 team since he had been the coach at Mississippi State. There were a lot of monkey that would jump off the backs of the coaches and players if the Bulldogs could pull out a win.

LSU looked the part of a top 10 team. They had already beaten a good Wisconsin team. And Mississippi State, a team the Tigers never lost to was in Death Valley. No real reason to worry for the Tigers or their fans.

The result
Mississippi State came out firing in this game. Mississippi State scored the first 17 points of the game, and entered half time up 17-3.

Dak Prescott would make his only real mistake in this game on the opening drive of the second half. He fumbled the ball and it was returned for a touchdown and cut the lead down to 7. This was normally where Mississippi State would fold. But on the next possession, Dak Prescott would break loose on a 56 yards touchdown run and put the Bulldogs back in control.

The Bulldogs extended the lead to 34-10 at the start of the 4th quarter and looked like they had the game wrapped up. A Kenny Hilliard touchdown run early in the fourth cut the lead to 34-18 but the Bulldogs were still in control.

During the last 4 minutes of the game the Bulldogs got lazy and began subbing and started making error after error. The Tigers eventually cut the lead to 34-29 and had a Hail Mary to win the game get picked off. Despite the scare in the closing moments, the Bulldogs won the game and began a swing of games like the school had never seen before.

Oct 11, 2014; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs wide receiver De

Number 1: 2014 Auburn

It was a scene like no other for Mississippi State and the city of Starkville. Mississippi State was ranked third in the country and had the second ranked team in the nation coming to their stadium. College Gameday was on campus. It would end up being one of the highest rated games in the country during the 2014 season. This is easily the number 1 win in the Dan Mullen era.

The setup
The setup is the same for both teams in this game. The winner would walk away ranked as the number one team in the country, and in the driver’s seat for the SEC West. Florida State had been losing its grip on the ranking, so the winner of this game was going to be the team to jump over the Seminoles and take the reigns of all the polls.

The result
Mississippi State jumped out to a 21-0 lead before you could blink. Thanks to some early turnovers by the Tigers, Mississippi State had complete control of the game early on.

But the game was far from over. Auburn slowly began to chip away at the lead. A few back and forth possessions, and the Bulldogs would take a 28-13 lead into the locker room at half time.

When play resumed in the second half, neither team could establish control. After an Evan Sobiesk field goal pushed the Mississippi State lead back out to 11 points at 31-20, the Tigers would make a critical mistake which virtually sealed the game for Mississippi State.

The kickoff by Devon Bell that followed the field goal was high up in the air, and the Auburn kick returner fumbled the ball. It was recovered by the Bulldogs and a few plays later, Josh Robinson would punch the ball in for a touchdown that all but sealed the win. Auburn would later tack on a field goal to make the final score 38-23 in favor of Mississippi State.

The win pushed the Bulldogs to number 1 in the polls for the first time in school history. It also put Dak Prescott as the front runner for the Heisman Trophy until the loss at Alabama. And Mississippi State was the first ever team to be ranked number 1 by the brand new College Football Playoff Committee.

The 2014 season might not have ended the way Mississippi State fans wanted, but it was one of the most fun seasons many of our fans have ever experienced.

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