When you think about the Southeastern Conference in 2010 two teams quickly should come to mind -- Auburn, the SEC and national champion, and South Carolina, with its breakthrough as East Division champions.
There was a third team that surpassed everyone's expectations albeit on a quieter scale -- Mississippi State. No one expected the Bulldogs to finish the 2010 campaign at 9-4. They had wins over Georgia, Florida, Ole Miss, Kentucky and a 52-14 Gator Bowl beatdown of Michigan. No one expected Mississippi State to finish inside the top 20 in Dan Mullen's second season at the helm in Starkville.
Along the way Mullen and his program put together a very good 2011 recruiting class, a class on the top 25 bubble. Their season and how they recruited has carried over in the off-season, especially of late. Mississippi State has been as hot as any college football program in the country over the past two weeks.
"Winning [last fall] was a huge benefit for us," said Mark Ouimet, Mississippi State's coordinator of recruiting operations. "Beating the teams we beat and then beating a power like Michigan in the Gator Bowl ... that grabbed us a lot of attention."
Much of the game of recruiting is about momentum. While things started a tad on the slow side in Starkville with this recruiting class the exact opposite has happened since their Big Dawg camp on July 22. Since that event, the Bulldogs have had seven commitments: defensive tackle Nick James (Long Beach, Miss./Long Beach), running backs Xavier Grimble (Columbia, Miss./East Marion) and Brandon Holloway (Tampa, Fla./Alonso), wide receiver Fred Brown (Jackson, Miss./Jim Hill), tight end Gus Walley (Leakesville, Miss./Greene County) and athletes Adairius Barnes (Port Gibson, Miss./Port Gibson) and Will Redmond (Memphis/East).
Landing Redmond was huge for Mullen and Mississippi State. In doing so, the Bulldogs beat Tennessee for this two-way standout.
"Doing what they did last year played a big part in my decision because I know Coach Mullen and the staff really know what they are doing," said Redmond, who probably will play safety in Starkville. "That was a big factor for me."
That's a pretty darn good two-week haul, especially when you add it to what had already been committed: athlete Deonte Evans (McComb, Miss./McComb), center Devon Desper (Madison, Miss./Central), defensive ends Nelson Adams (Brandon, Miss./Brandon), Ryan Brown (Marrero, La./Archbishop Shaw) and Torrey Bell (River Ridge, La./John Curtis), and safety Quandry Antoine (Belle Chasse, La.).
"The one thing I loved about them was the coaches and their positive attitude," Holloway said. "And I know the program is headed in the right direction. Those are the two main reasons I picked them. What they did last season was awesome. I camped there this summer and being around them was terrific. They have such a positive outlook. They want to take that next step and I want to be a part of that."
Attitude is huge in Starkville. It's a mandate from the top, as Mullen preaches to everyone involved within the program they will have the greatest attitude and give the best effort in everything they do. That carries over from the staff to their players and anyone and everyone involved in the football program.
"It's a process-based approach," said Geoff Collins, Mississippi State's co-defensive coordinator. "Every day we talk about being champions in the classroom, community and on the field. That will carry over. We want everyone to be the absolute best in everything they do. That approach will work if you apply it to every phase of your lives. Be the absolute best you can be in everything you do every day. That mindset doesn't change. Every kid and coach on this staff has bought in. It's the accumulation of those efforts that will result in great things here at Mississippi State."
Collins is new to the program, having joined the Bulldogs coaching staff in January, following the departure of Manny Diaz to Texas. Collins, like most of the recruits, was blown away by Mullen and where this program is headed.
"I can speak personally on this," Collins said. "One of the big reasons I chose to come here was how fast the product on the field was coming together. Now being here you see why. Everyone works hard and there is a great attention to details. They played very well last season and they showed up in the Gator Bowl. The way that team played is indicative of how the school and program are being run.
"We have a lot going for us. We are an SEC college town with a passionate fan base. All the people are so supportive. Our place is loud and very enthusiastic for our team. It makes for a special environment. Then you have a coaching staff with a high energy group of guys to work with and play for."
There is more to this story than just a good 2010 campaign and lots of recruiting momentum. Mississippi State has worked hard since Mullen's arrival to get ahead of the recruiting process, especially since it has become so accelerated over the past few seasons.
"I can honestly say that we would never be in the ball game with some of the players we have gotten had we not started recruiting them early," Ouimet said. "It has helped us with just about every single one. You have to be a class or two ahead right now or you won't be in the ball game. If a kid hasn't been to one of your home games, a junior day or camp by August you know you are not getting them. You have to get ahead and we have done a good job of that."
The Bulldogs have 16 commitments. They hope to sign somewhere in the neighborhood of 22. They would love to close with ESPNU 150 defensive linemen Channing Ward (Aberdeen, Miss./Aberdeen) and Quay Evans (Morton, Miss./Morton). They would love to land a couple of linebackers and offensive linemen. They have offered quarterbacks Anthony Alford (Petal, Miss./Petal) and Jeremy Liggins (Oxford, Miss./Lafayette), but if they elect to go elsewhere don't be surprised if Mullen and company wait until next year for a signal caller. Of course, the Bulldogs are battling the Vols once again, this time for wide receiver Jason Croom (Norcross, Ga./Norcross), who will make his decision in the middle of this month. And if a good one falls their way, they won't turn them down, as Mullen is always looking for the best available football players regardless of position.
As expected, most of the in-state stars in the Magnolia State will stay home and play for the Bulldogs or rival Ole Miss. Certainly players leave for Tuscaloosa or Baton Rouge but for the most start if you are Mississippi State or Ole Miss, you know who you have to beat.
"I know there are a lot of kids down around here thinking of State," said Tommy Browder, coach at Long Beach High School in southern Mississippi. "Kids look at them on the same level as Ole Miss and that was not like that before. I think they have the upper hand right now and they are really selling the kids on what they have going on. They have a lot of momentum and they have it going the right way. The kids see the confidence in that program."
Philon backs off Auburn pledge
Three-star defensive tackle Darius Philon (Prichard, Ala./Vigor) committed to the Auburn Tigers in May. But that changed earlier this week and now this 6-1, 270-pounder is back on the market.
"Darius wanted to open things back with recruiting," Vigor coach Kerry Stevenson said. "I know originally the plan was to wait until the end of the summer to make a decision and I think he got caught up in things and committed too soon."
Philon camped at Alabama over the summer and did some great things. Don't be surprised if he makes a decision for the Crimson Tide, perhaps even soon. If not teams such as USF, Mississippi State, Kentucky, Arkansas and Ole Miss are all looking to land this standout from the Mobile area.
No. 2 CB sets decision day
Four-star cornerback prospect Geno Smith (Atlanta/Saint Pius X Catholic) will make his decision on Wednesday, Aug. 17. It will be a 3:30 announcement at his high school. Smith says it's a two-horse race between Auburn and Alabama.
"It will come down to the place where I feel the most comfortable," Smith said via email.
Smith, 5-11 and 170 pounds, is the No. 2 ranked corner and the No. 31 ranked overall player in the ESPNU 150.
Smith appears to be yet another Peach State standout leaving Georgia. Already top-notch prospects such as linebackers Ukeme Eligwe (FSU), Dillon Lee (Alabama) and Raphael Kirby (Miami), cornerback Joshua Holsey (Auburn), athlete Ricky Parks (Auburn), wide receiver JaQuay Williams (Auburn), running backs Mike Davis (Florida) and Kenyan Drake (Alabama), defensive end Jarantay Jones (Virginia Tech), and offensive linemen Brandon Greene (Alabama) and Joe Harris (South Carolina) have committed to schools outside the state.