Mississippi State had never been a top-five football program before last season, so it's little surprise the unexpected ascent to No. 1 in the national rankings provided special memories.
Dan Mullen's Bulldogs began last year unranked, but that changed in late September after a 34-29 win over No. 8 LSU in Baton Rouge. A 48-31 win over No. 6 Texas A&M got the Bulldogs in the top five, and then a 38-23 win over No. 2 Auburn placed Mississippi State at the top of the polls.
Last season: 10-3 (6-2 SEC)
Opener: Sept. 5 at Southern Miss (10 p.m. on Fox Sports One)
Fun fact: Mississippi State trails every series against SEC West opposition except against Texas A&M, with that series deadlocked at 4-4.
Starkville was college football's capital for more than a month before the dream run ended with a 25-20 loss at No. 4 Alabama.
"I had fun while we were there," senior defensive end Ryan Brown said earlier this month at SEC Media Days. "I remember waking up that Sunday morning and the polls came out to where it was official. We were No. 1, and I had no words to describe how I felt."
Brown is a 6-foot-6, 262-pounder from New Orleans, so being a part of Mississippi State's first win at LSU since 1991 was special. Yet it wasn't his favorite moment of the year.
"It was an incredible feeling when we beat Auburn," Brown said of the first top-three showdown in Davis Wade Stadium history. "That was at the top of my list. I had not felt that much emotion after a game since I lost my championship in third grade. I still remember crying that afternoon."
Last year produced mostly tears of joy as Mississippi State won 10 games for just the third time in program history, joining Allyn McKeen's 1940 Bulldogs who went 10-0-1 and Jackie Sherrill's 1999 Bulldogs who went 10-2. Mississippi State rebounded from last season's loss in Tuscaloosa with a 51-0 shredding of Vanderbilt but saved two of its worst performances for last.
The Bulldogs lost the Egg Bowl to Ole Miss 31-17, dashing any hopes of making the inaugural four-team national playoff, and got run over by Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl, 49-34.
Quarterback Dak Prescott threw for 3,449 yards and rushed for 986 last season while totaling a staggering 41 touchdowns. He is back for his senior season, along with his top target, junior receiver De'Runnya Wilson, who had 47 catches for 680 yards and nine touchdowns a year ago.
Yet only four starters return on each side of the ball, which helps explain why the Bulldogs are being picked last in the seven-team SEC Western Division.
"This is my seventh year, and I think all seven years they've pretty much picked us to finish last in the West," Mullen said. "It's kind of like a tradition, I guess. We don't really worry much about that. I'm much more concerned with how we finish."
Said Brown: "We like it, because it gives us more motivation. They were saying the same thing last year and the year before that and the year before that."
A former three-star prospect, Brown signed in 2012 and played that fall. He started 12 of 13 games last year, collecting 39 tackles, seven tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, with his 10 quarterback hurries ranking second on the team.
Like so many of his teammates, Brown was overlooked by a lot of the SEC heavyweights.
Like so many of his teammates, Brown has loved proving the doubters wrong.
"I would rather be underrated than overrated," he said. "I like being a Bulldog, and better than that, an underdog to prove ourselves and have that motivation."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.
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