Everybody associated with Mississippi State’s program will look back on this season with a heavy heart.
It was a season to remember on the field. The Bulldogs won eight games in the regular season for the first time since 1999, put together a six-game winning streak at one point and are going back to a bowl game.
There was also a second straight win over the “school up north,” as Mississippi State beat Ole Miss 31-23 for its first win in Oxford since 1998.
The Bulldogs (8-4) were No. 21 when the final BCS standings were released Sunday.
Obviously, a lot went right for Dan Mullen and his club, but the death of sophomore defensive end Nick Bell to cancer during this season will be something that nobody soon forgets. Bell died the week of the Bulldogs’ open date on Nov. 6, and they lost their next two games to Alabama and Arkansas before rebounding to win at Ole Miss.
Mullen still doesn’t have the number of playmaking receivers he needs to run his spread offense the way he’d like to, but the Bulldogs again leaned on a bruising running game this season and were second in the SEC in rushing, averaging 215.8 yards per game.
First-year defensive coordinator Manny Diaz proved to be a terrific hire, and Mississippi State finished third in the SEC in scoring defense, allowing 20.3 points per game.
Offensive MVP: Offensive tackle Derek Sherrod. Perhaps the best offensive lineman in the SEC this season, Sherrod was a big reason the Bulldogs were so effective running the ball for a second straight season. He graded out consistently high from his left tackle spot and was the guy the Bulldogs ran behind in key situations.
Defensive MVP: Linebacker Chris White. He moved into the middle this season and blossomed into one of the more productive linebackers in the league. White was fourth in the SEC in tackles with 105 and led the Bulldogs with 15.5 tackles for loss, including a team-leading six sacks.
Turning point: Having lost its first two SEC games to Auburn and LSU, Mississippi State returned home the fourth week of the season and jumped all over Georgia for what was the start of the Bulldogs’ six-game winning streak.
What’s next: It’s been a while since the Bulldogs have won a Jan. 1 bowl game, but they will get that chance against Michigan in the Gator Bowl. Down the road, it looks like Mississippi State is working on a new deal to keep Mullen in Starkville. His name was linked to the Miami job, but he said Sunday he plans on being at Mississippi State for a long time.