For first time in 106 years, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State each 3-0

For first time in 106 years, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State each 3-0

September 20th, 2017 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Perennial punching bags?

Not this year.

The Southeastern Conference's three football programs that possess losing all-time records — Kentucky, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt — are each 3-0 in the same season for the first time since 1911. That was 22 years before there was a Southeastern Conference.

All three are coming off upset victories last Saturday night, and all three are faced with even bigger challenges this weekend.

"You can only put 11 guys on the field, so you can play with anybody," Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said in a news conference after last week's 14-7 stunning of No. 18 Kansas State. "You've just got to make sure that your guys believe."

For this trio to improve to 4-0, Mason's Commodores must topple top-ranked Alabama in Nashville, something that was last achieved in 1969, Mississippi State must win at Georgia for the first time since 1956 and Kentucky must end a 30-year losing streak to the Florida Gators. Florida's three-decade mastery of the Wildcats is the longest active streak in the Bowl Subdivision and the fifth longest in college football history.

The Gators won their 29th straight in the series 45-7 last season in Gainesville, but this weekend's game is in Lexington, where Florida prevailed just 14-9 two years ago.

"The minute bad things happen, we've been there before," Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said Monday during his weekly news conference. "Just regroup, fix the problem and move on to the next play. Our team has that mentality, and I love that about them."

Kentucky was picked by many to be a dark horse candidate in this year's SEC East race, but that talk subsided after the Wildcats rang up unimpressive victories over Southern Miss (24-17) and Eastern Kentucky (27-16) to open the season. As underdogs last week at South Carolina, the Wildcats not only collected a fourth straight win in that series by a 23-13 score but consumed nearly 37 minutes of possession time.

"There wasn't any panic in our building," Stoops said. "We were doing some very good things, and we knew we had a good team and that we just had to improve in certain areas. Name one team in the country that's not that way.

"We care. We believe in each other, and that's all that matters."

The Wildcats have an all-time record of 602-612-44, having slipped under .500 with consecutive 2-10 seasons in 2012 and 2013. Stoops was in his first season in 2013 but has been a more respectable 20-20 since, including a 10-6 mark since the start of last year.

Mississippi State has an all-time record of 549-569-39, but that's certainly not Dan Mullen's fault. The most successful MSU coach since Allyn McKeen in the 1940s, Mullen has a 64-42 overall mark early in his ninth season and has taken the Bulldogs to seven consecutive bowl games.

Mullen guided Mississippi State to its first No. 1 ranking and an Orange Bowl appearance in 2014, when quarterback Dak Prescott was a junior, and this year's team is No. 17 following last Saturday's 37-7 home hammering of LSU. The Bulldogs have yet to finish last in the SEC West under Mullen, though they're often projected there, and that may be why he smirked Saturday night when asked about predictions of this year's team finishing around 6-6.

"We're 3-0," Mullen said. "We've got a long way to six wins, so we'll see what happens."

Vanderbilt is 11 games under .500 all-time (597-608-50) and eight games under .500 under Mason (16-24), who went 7-17 his first two seasons but is 9-7 since. The win over Kansas State marked the first triumph over a ranked nonconference opponent since 1946 for the Commodores, making that a much longer drought than their last victory over Alabama, which took place at Tuscaloosa in 1984.

The Commodores lead the nation in total defense and scoring defense several months after losing consensus All-America linebacker Zach Cunningham early to the NFL, but Mason knows he will have as many doubters as ever this week.

Which doesn't seem to have bothered him to this point.

"You look at this football team," Mason said, "and everyone was like, 'How are we going to replace Zach Cunningham?' That's all we heard even three weeks ago. All we did was take some juniors and seniors and put those guys in a position to play football in this conference.

"It's not as hard as everybody thinks it is. You've just got to grow guys up in your culture and in your program."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.


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