Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen
It wasn't the prettiest win in the world, but style points don't matter for Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs topped Arkansas 24-17 in overtime in Little Rock, marking the first win for MSU in the state of Arkansas in program history and keeping its bowl hopes alive as it enters a must-win Egg Bowl vs. Ole Miss on Thursday night in Starkville.
"First time in 113 years we've ever won in this state, and we have the opportunity for the first time in 113 years to go to four straight bowl games," head coach Dan Mullen told SEC TV's Cara Capuano on the broadcast after the game. "This team can make unbelievable history for this program this week."
But is that enough to keep Dan Mullen employed beyond the 2013 season?
In his fifth season as the head coach of the Bulldogs, Mullen has failed to achieve a signature win. His teams are 5-26 versus FBS teams that have finished with eight or more wins, a record that could get worse depending on how it goes against Ole Miss this week and how LSU and Bowling Green do to close out the season.
Mullen has elevated the floor of the football program, which is exactly what he was trying to illustrate in his postgame interview on the broadcast. But he's done nothing to impact the ceiling.
Is that enough?
It is enough for him to stay employed now, but having a program that's clearly stuck in neutral is only tolerable for so long—even at a place like Mississippi State, where sustained bowl eligibility has been elusive.
On top of raising the floor of the program, Mullen has the backing of athletics director Scott Stricklin and has been at the helm as the program has embarked on a $75 million renovation and expansion of Davis-Wade Stadium.
However, keeping him around for another year is only delaying the inevitable for Mississippi State.
It's clear that the Bulldogs are fighting an uphill battle in the SEC West. After a one-year lull, Auburn has zoomed past the Bulldogs in 2013, Ole Miss has regained control of the state borders, and Arkansas—despite falling to the Bulldogs on Saturday—isn't going to stay down forever.
Should Dan Mullen be Mississippi State's head coach in 2014?
The problem Mullen faces is the next step.
In the SEC West, "the next step" is contending for the SEC West title. Since the start of the 2007 season, the SEC West champ has been in legitimate BCS National Championship contention late into November.
Is Mississippi State ready to make that kind of leap?
Not with Mullen.
It'd be better off taking a risk on a proven head coach who may be looking for an out and another chance (looking in your direction, Bobby Petrino) or a solid up-and-coming head coach like Mark Hudspeth at Louisiana-Lafayette.
Mullen won't be fired after this season, regardless of what happens in the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving night. He should be, but he won't.
Next season, however, contending for lower-tier bowl slots may finally get old and cause the Bulldogs to go in a different direction.