Dan Mullen has built an impressive resume as he enters his fifth season as the head coach of the Mississippi Bulldogs. Prior to his arrival, the Bulldogs had not won more than four games in seven of their previous eight seasons.
Over the past three seasons, the Bulldogs have averaged eight wins a season and have played in three consecutive bowl games.
However, Mullen is still looking for that signature win. A win this week versus the Oklahoma State Cowboys could be the kind of win that catapults Mississippi State to the next level.
Why Oklahoma State could win this ball game
Offensive mastermind Mike Gundy had the Cowboys offense firing on all cylinders once again last season. Oklahoma State averaged 45.7 points per game last season and just under 550 yards per game.
Quarterback Clint Chelf looks primed for a breakout season in 2013. He started five games down the stretch for the Cowboys and was effective throwing for 1,588 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Chelf will have a lot of help with one of the top receiving units in college football. The most impressive wide receiver in the stable is Josh Stewart who caught 101 passes for 1,210 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Cowboys will look to expose a Mississippi State defense that is replacing six starters. The Bulldogs had a solid defense last season that only surrendered 23.3 points per game. However, the departure of cornerbacks Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay could be problematic for the Bulldogs in this game.
Oklahoma State should be able to move the ball with consistency in the air, and that could lead to a long night for the Bulldogs.
Why Mississippi State could win this ball game
The Bulldogs' offense was far from explosive last season. However, the return of quarterback Tyler Russell who passed for nearly 2,900 yards and 24 touchdowns last season gives Mississippi State hope for improvement this season.
Russell improved dramatically as the season went forth and has the advantage of LaDarius Perkins returning for another season with the Bulldogs. Perkins had just under 1,300 yards of total offense and 10 total touchdowns last season.
If the Bulldogs can control the clock with their running game it will have a two-fold impact. It will keep the Cowboys offense off of the field, and it will also take the pressure of an unproven group of wide receivers.
Moreover, if the Bulldogs can control the clock, their defense does not have to be great, just opportunistic. If they can force a couple of turnovers, the Bulldogs will be there at the end.
The Bulldogs will keep this game close and will be there at the end. However, they have not proven they can win the big game. As a result, I am going to pick the Cowboys in a close finish.
Score Prediction: Oklahoma State 34 Mississippi State 28
Stat Prediction: Chelf 300-plus yards passing.