Countdown to SEC kickoff: 31 days

Even though Mississippi State faded toward the end of last season, the Bulldogs still won eight games and salvaged their third straight winning season under Dan Mullen.

The number du jour this season in Starkville: Four.

Mississippi State will be shooting for its fourth straight winning season in 2013. The last time that happened was 1997-2000 under Jackie Sherrill, so it’s been a while. In fact, when Mullen arrived in 2009, the Bulldogs had suffered through losing seasons in seven of the previous eight years. One of the surest signs that Mullen has advanced the program is that nobody in maroon really gets excited about eight wins anymore. To be fair to the Mississippi State fan base, the Bulldogs played poorly down the stretch a year ago after starting out 7-0 and lost badly to the best teams on their schedule. In a lot of ways, Mullen has created a bit of a monster in the Land of Cowbells, but he views that as a good thing and readily admits that the next step is getting to the point where the Bulldogs are finishing with a winning record in SEC play more times than not. They’ve yet to post a winning SEC record on Mullen’s watch and have only done it three times over the last 20 years. One of those times came in 1998, which marked Mississippi State’s only appearance in the SEC championship game. Getting back to Atlanta this season may be a stretch for the Bulldogs. But if they do carve out a fourth straight winning season, that would put them in exclusive company in the SEC. Only four schools in the league -- Alabama, Florida, LSU and South Carolina -- have managed winning seasons each of the past four years. Florida has the SEC’s longest active streak of winning seasons with 25 in a row. The last time the Gators didn’t finish with a winning record was 1987 when they were 6-6.