Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen
While all of the SEC's attention is focused squarely on College Station, Texas, this weekend for the showdown between No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 Texas A&M, another SEC West matchup is also quite intriguing.
Mississippi State will travel to Auburn on Saturday night to take on the Tigers in what will be the most important game of Dan Mullen's head coaching career with the Bulldogs.
In his fifth year at the helm of the Mississippi State program, Mullen is still lacking a signature win on his resume.
The Bulldogs are 5-21 against Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) opponents that finish the season with eight or more wins. That number in the loss column will likely jump to 22 if Oklahoma State—which beat the Bulldogs, 21-3, on opening night—posts six more wins before the end of the season.
Would a win over Auburn qualify?
It did last year, according to Mullen, despite the fact that Auburn finished last season at 3-9 and winless in the SEC.
"To me, that was one of my top wins as a head coach," Mullen said on Wednesday's weekly SEC coaches' teleconference. "Every year, when it's that same team in the first conference game, it makes it huge. That was a great win for us and our program, last year."
This game will shape the direction of the Mississippi State program moving forward. Win it, and finding four more wins this season with Troy, Bowling Green and Kentucky on the schedule is attainable. Lose it, and there's little-to-no chance Mississippi State goes bowling in the 2013 season.
That could drastically impact Mullen's status as head coach.
Bowl games are the goal at Mississippi State and Mullen has done a fantastic job raising the floor of the program. His Bulldogs have appeared in three straight bowls, which for most programs isn't exactly saying a lot. But prior to his hiring, Mississippi State had only appeared in 13 bowl games in its history.
Is this the most important game of Dan Mullen's head coaching career?
However, Mullen he hasn't done anything to impact the ceiling at Mississippi State. Despite his reasonable success, the program hasn't sniffed contention yet in the SEC West. A sub-.500 record would signify that the program is taking a step back, or at the very least, getting jumped.
Mullen's job isn't in jeopardy this season. Opinions vary as to whether or not it should be, but he has done enough over the past four years, both from a bowl game standpoint and a facilities standpoint, to build up quite a bit of job security.
That could change in a hurry, though.
If the program takes a step back this year, the 2014 season will be one in which Mullen is coaching for his job.
A loss to Auburn on Saturday makes it hard to conceive a scenario in which the program doesn't take a step back.
It truly is the most important game of Mullen's head coaching career.