Mississippi State Football: Great Starts Don't Always Equal Fantastic Finishes

Jake Wimberly@jakewimContributor IIISeptember 26, 2012

Mississippi State Football: Great Starts Don't Always Equal Fantastic Finishes

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    It is no secret that the Mississippi State football program has a history full of mediocrity, suffering and a limited amount of success—which is why the fans of the Bulldogs should be ecstatic over their team's 4-0 start. 

    But, if you look back over the last 40 years or so, great starts do not always equal fantastic finishes for the Bulldogs program. 

    Today we look back through the "modern era" of football to see how great starts have ended for the Mississippi State football program. 

1974 Bulldogs Are One to Marvel

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    The 1974 Mississippi State Bulldogs coached by Bob Tyler started out at 2-0 then lost 29-13 at Florida.  State eventually ended up at 6-1, then got blasted 35-0 at Alabama.  The only other loss for the Bulldogs was a 24-20 defeat at the hands of the Auburn Tigers. 

    Led by the most valuable SEC player of that year, Rocky Felker, the Bulldogs went on to a 9-3 finish and beat North Carolina in the Sun Bowl.  

    The Bulldogs finished the year ranked 17th in the final Associated Press poll. 

1976 Was All for Naught

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    Due to NCAA sanctions, prior to the 1975 season Bob Tyler's Bulldogs were put on probation due to improper benefits for student athletes.  Every game the Bulldogs played from 1975-1977 was called a forfeit. 

    But as they say, the show must go on, and the 1976 team started out much like the '74 team going 2-0 before losing yet again to Florida, 30-24.  This team went on to a 6-1 record before losing again to—you guessed it, Alabama.  A final record of 9-3 landed the Bulldogs at No. 20 in the Associated Press but it was all for naught. 

1980 Was a Year to Wear Shades

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    The Bulldogs opened the 1980 season 3-0 and again fell to those pesky Gators 21-15.  They then caught fire winning six of their last eight games to finish the regular season 9-2.  No game is more memorable though than the November 1st shocker over then No. 1 Alabama, as the Bulldogs prevailed 6-3 in Jackson, MS. 

    The Bulldogs would head to the Sun Bowl that year where they would fall 31-17 to the Nebraska Cornhuskers. 

    This team would end up featuring some of the greatest Bulldogs of all time in Kent Hull, Johnie Cooks, Michael Haddix and more. 

1981 Turned out to Be No Fun

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    Emory Bellard is remembered for his time in the Southwestern Athletic Conference and for being a pioneer and creator of the wishbone.  Bellard is also remembered as a coach that had some ups and downs during his time at Mississippi State.  

    The 1981 season began with promise, coming off the success of 1980 and the Bulldogs started out winning three in a row before dropping a tough game against Missouri.  

    The Bulldogs then ran off another three straight wins to take their record to 6-1 before the bottom fell out. 

    The Bulldogs lost back to back games to Alabama and Southern Mississippi by a combined four points, then lost another game to in-state rival Ole Miss 21-17.  A season that started out strong turned into a season of what-ifs.

    The Bulldogs did manage to grab an invitation to the Hall of Fame Classic and defeated the Kansas Jayhawks 10-0 to end the year 8-4. 

1982-85 Was the Mississippi State Version of Ground Hog Day

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    Remember the 1993 movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell portraying Murray in a life loop where every day was the same? 

    You could argue that the producer of this movie was a Mississippi State fan that lived through the 1982-85 seasons because that is exactly what you saw.  New team, different year, but the results were eerily similar. 

    In 1982 the John Bond led Bulldogs started off 2-0, cruising by Tulane and Arkansas State, but ended up losing six of their last eight and finishing 3-9 in a year where things seemed so promising. 

    In 1983 the Bulldogs again got off to a fast start at 2-0 but then lost seven of the next eight to finish at again a very disappointing 3-9.

    In 1984 another 2-0 start ended with the Bulldogs dropping six of their last eight to finish 4-7 on yet another disastrous campaign. 

    Finally in 1985 the Bulldogs got to 3-0 under Bellard, dropped a game to Florida, bounced back against Memphis, then went on to lose five of their last six.  The Bulldogs went on to finish 5-6 and Bellard was relieved of his duties at Mississippi State. 

Felker Era Begins in 1986 with a Bang, Then Fizzles out

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    The Bulldogs began the Rocky Felker era in 1986 as the former all SEC performer came home to be the head man at Mississippi State. 

    The Bulldogs started off 2-0 and pulled a 27-23 upset over then No. 8 Tennessee to begin the year.  In Week 3, the Dawgs dropped a close 28-24 game to in-state rival Southern Mississippi, then won four games in a row and were on a roll until Auburn dropped the bomb on the Bulldogs by the tune of 35-6.  

    Mississippi State lost their final three games of the season only scoring six points in those contests and finished a very disappointing 6-5 after being 6-1 entering the month of November. 

1991, 1992 and 1994: The Sherrill Era Is Born

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    Hungry for a winner and thirsty for a finisher, the Bulldogs hired controversial head coach Jackie Sherrill in 1991 and it did not take Sherrill long to produce and raise expectations in Starkville. 

    In 1991 Sherrill and the Bulldogs started off 3-0 and defeated the University of Texas.  The Bulldogs went on to finish the year with a 7-5 record and a winning record for the first time since 1981 within the Southeastern Conference.  The Bulldogs closed out the year with a Liberty Bowl defeat to Air Force. 

    In 1992 the Bulldogs again started strong as they pushed their record out to a 4-1 mark before finishing the year at 7-5.  They also garnered their second straight bowl appearance as the Bulldogs played in the Peach Bowl and lost a tight one to North Carolina, 21-17. 

    1994 saw the Dawgs again get off to a 3-1 start and after getting blown out of their own building by Auburn, they regrouped and won five of their last six to finish 8-3.

    The Bulldogs would again visit the Peach Bowl and again lose to a team from North Carolina. This time it was the Wolfpack of North Carolina State as the Pack defeated the Bulldogs 28-24.

1998: SEC West Champions

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    1998 saw the Bulldogs—led by freshman quarterback Wayne Madkin and junior college transfer running back James Johnson—get off to a 5-1 start.  After getting drilled at LSU and then losing a close 37-35 game at Kentucky, the Bulldogs won three in a row to claim their first ever SEC Western Division crown and punch their ticket to the SEC championship game in Atlanta. 

    The Bulldogs came within six minutes of knocking off eventual national champion Tennessee, as the Volunteers held on to win the SEC championship 24-14.

    The Bulldogs found their way into the Cotton Bowl to end the season, but ran into a buzz saw as the Ricky Williams-led Longhorns of Texas won 38-11.

1999 Could Be Best Ever for the Bulldogs

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    What do you get when you combine one of the best defenses these eyes have ever seen with a fantastic special teams unit and an average offense?  You get a team that almost did the unthinkable, which is run the table in 1999. 

    The Bulldogs started off the 1999 season 8-0 and were mentioned as a possible dark horse for the national championship.  This set the stage for an SEC showdown in Tuscaloosa against the Alabama Crimson Tide.  

    The Tide ended up holding on to beat State 19-7 and the Bulldogs lost a heartbreaker the next week to Arkansas 14-9.  The loss to the Hogs broke a school record 17 straight wins at home for the Bulldogs.  

    State finished the year with a win over the Clemson Tigers in the Peach Bowl as the Bulldogs won in convincing fashion, 17-7, and finished the year 10-2.

A 4-0 Start in 2012 Means What?

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    For the first time since 1999 the Bulldogs are 4-0.  Many fans are ecstatic with the start and some even expected it.  Conversely, some fans look at the lack of focus and the way the team has played and have cause for concern. 

    What does all this mean?  It means that fans should enjoy being 4-0, because as the records show, there is no telling what will happen with Mississippi State.  We have seen this program start off strong only to finish poorly.  We have also seen this program start strong and finish strong. 

    The one thing this team has that none of the others had is an all around sharp, aggressive coaching staff.  That is not meant to take anything away from previous staffs that walked the sidelines in Starkville.  But this staff is a complete staff and this year's team seems to be well rounded from a talent standpoint.  

    Head coach Dan Mullen has also done something no other coach has ever done while at Mississippi State: Win every game you are favored to win.  Excepting last year's Auburn game where State was a slight favorite and lost, Mullen has not been upset or beaten by a lesser opponent.  That is something that has plagued previous coaches at State. 

    My guess?  I would say smile, poke your chest out and be proud to be a Bulldog. Unless something drastic happens, this will be one of those years the Bulldogs started strong and finished strong.  You should be celebrating New Year's at a bowl site yet to be determined.