No cupcake opener for Mississippi St this season

Mississippi State’s four previous season openers under coach Dan

Mullen have been laughers, with the Bulldogs beating overmatched

opponents by an average of nearly 44 points.

Humor might be harder to find this Saturday.

Mississippi State faces No. 13 Oklahoma State at Reliant Stadium

in Houston in the toughest opener of Mullen’s tenure. The marquee

matchup on a neutral field brings the potential for a galvanizing

victory, but also the risk of a humbling loss.

Mullen said playing such a difficult opponent isn’t necessarily

a problem, but poses different challenges. In easier openers, he

could slowly work freshmen into the playing rotation and in

situations where they’d likely find success.

That’s a luxury he won’t have against the Cowboys. He estimated

that ”six or seven” freshmen would make the trip to Houston and

many would be on the field regardless of the situation.

”It’s a little harder in this game,” Mullen said. ”This is

what amounts to a big-time game right from day one. So you’re

treating this game like you would a game in November when you’re

competing for a conference championship. It’s at that level.”

Oklahoma State is known for its prolific offense that averaged

about 45 points per game last season. Cowboys coach Mike Gundy

hasn’t chosen a starting quarterback during preseason practice, but

both options – senior Clint Chelf and sophomore J.W. Walsh – played

a lot in 2012 and had success.

It’s an intriguing challenge for Mississippi State’s young

secondary that’s using three new starters. Junior safety Jay Hughes

– who is one of those new starters – said the Bulldogs will be

ready.

”They say we’re the weakest part of the team,” Hughes said.

”But this is our chance to show the country what we can do.”

Mississippi State linebacker Deontae Skinner said the Bulldogs

must bounce back from adversity on Saturday, because it’s highly

unlikely the Bulldogs will keep the Cowboys completely off the

scoreboard.

”You’ve got to understand the dos and don’ts of the big

picture,” Skinner said. ”Sometimes you get scored on and

sometimes you don’t. But being a leader, you’ve got to show the

young guys the game is never over until the clock hits zero.”

Mississippi State’s offense has fewer question marks, with

senior quarterback Tyler Russell leading the way. But Russell will

be throwing to several new receivers and there are also new faces

on the offensive line.

”You feel the ability is there, no doubt,” Mississippi State

offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. ”I mean we feel we’re

very proud of the receivers we’ve brought in. I think it’s how

quick they can retain and how quick they can get on the field, how

quick they can feel comfortable in what they’re doing.”

The game is a chance for the Bulldogs to prove they can play

with one of the country’s best teams. Mississippi State started

last season with a 7-0 record, but lost five of its last six games,

including all four against ranked opponents.

Mullen said win or lose, the game is also a great showcase for

the program, which has made three straight bowl games for only the

second time in school history.

Both teams are used to having success in season openers.

Oklahoma State has won five straight while Mississippi State has

won four in a row.

”The opportunity to play in this type of game is special no

matter what the outcome,” Mullen said. ”Obviously, it’s more

special if you win, but every game is that way. It is a great honor

for us to get invited to play in this game and it shows what our

program has become.”

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Online:

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