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Checking in with: Mississippi State

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"I don't think there's any team in the West that doesn't think they can win it," Dan Mullen said. AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Dan Mullen can't dodge preseason rankings.

When Mississippi State's head coach was greeted at SEC media days with projections of a seventh-place finish in the West, he wasn't surprised. And upon further reflection, he really couldn't care less.

"Nobody asked me my opinion," he said after the Bulldogs' first practice of preseason camp. "I don't get a vote."

Maybe voters look at the history of the program, Mullen mused.

Maybe it was the number of returning starters, he guessed.

But Mullen looks at players like defensive end Chris Jones and safety Kendrick Market and knows there's experience there, even if they're not technically starters.

"I don't think there's any team in the West that doesn't think they can win it," he said.

That wasn't just the usual coach-speak, he said, mocking some who say, "Hey, we feel great about this year! We're going to find a way to win!"

"I bet if you took a poll in the Big Ten of people whether anybody can win the championship in that league, they're probably not going to say that," he explained. "Then you look at the SEC West and you can probably make an argument of how every team could win."

Putting a finer point on his argument, Mullen said, "Especially if we have fifth-year senior at quarterback."

Of course, that senior is Dak Prescott, who finished eighth in the Heisman Trophy balloting last season.

"Pick us first or last, right?" Mullen joked. "Because if you're picked first you have real motivation to stay there, and if you're picked last you have motivation to prove everybody wrong."

New faces, new hope

It's not just preseason polls that Mississippi State is trying to avoid, it's any form of hype. That includes a pair of much talked about freshmen, linebacker Leo Lewis and defensive back Jamal Peters, who were the No. 2-ranked players at their respective positions coming out of high school, according to ESPN.

Mullen said he doesn't have a timeline for finding out whether Lewis, Peters or any of the other rookies will be ready to play this season. With tougher competition, harder workouts and a quicker pace of play, he said there are too many factors that go into the learning curve.

"They're trying to figure out if the ball is stuffed or blown," Mullen joked.

On a more serious note, he added: "Everyone is going to go at a different pace. There is a lot of time. ... It's such a hard deal until you get much closer to game week to see if they're going to have that opportunity of when it clicks."

Linebacker Beniquez Brown has been impressed with Lewis' ability, saying he's seen "flashes" of what made Lewis a four-star prospect.

"He listens well," Brown said. "He does what he's supposed to do. And he works hard.

"But we don't want to hype him up just yet. He still has a lot of work to do."

Quotable

Chris Jones has been talked about as one of the most talented defensive linemen in the SEC for what feels like years now.

Finally a starter with the hype of preseason awards watch lists, Mullen would like to see the payoff.

"I know he gets a lot of preseason hype, that he's all-whatever," he said. "But you have to play that way.

"The worst people are preseason All-Americans. If you're a preseason All-American, you better be a post-season All-American. If not, you've done a really bad job because people that you should be good and you didn't do it."

Scenes from practice