Let’s take the positive side of Mississippi State’s 11th-place showing on National Signing Day among SEC programs, citing 247Sports.com’s rankings:
In the vibrant head-coaching era of Dan Mullen (2009-present), counting eight recruiting seasons, Mississippi State has finished no lower than 35th on the national scale. That’s an impressive haul of incoming players, considering four dissenting factors:
a) Mississippi State typically ranks among the bottom-tier SEC schools in annual sports revenues — although none of the conference members are pleading poverty at this time.
b) MSU reportedly has the conference’s second-lowest number of undergraduate enrollees (August 2015 survey).
c) Starkville, Miss. recently rated last in an “Experts Poll” assessment of the SEC’s college towns.
d) The SEC consistently trumps others in the high-stakes recruiting game (football), meaning a conference member could post a top-20 class nationally … and still finish eighth among league foes (see: MSU Bulldogs, 2015).
MISSISSIPPI STATE’S RECRUITING RANKINGS SINCE 2009 (source: 247 Sports)
2016: 11th in SEC (31st nationally)
2015: 8th in SEC (18th nationally)
2014: 12th (35th)
2013: 11th (25th)
2012: 9th (22nd)
2011: 11th (35th)
2010: 11th (33rd)
2009: 8th (20th)
And yet, there’s an apparent undercurrent of frustration among MSU followers, in lieu of the Bulldogs’ typical results from Signing Day.
Yes, Mississippi State landed one five-star blue-chipper (defensive end Jeffery Simmons) and two four-star studs (defensive end Marquiss Spencer, defensive tackle Kobe Jones); but the Bulldogs also lost Derrick Brown (No. 9 overall prospect — Auburn) and A.J. Brown (No. 38 overall — Ole Miss) to SEC West rivals, respectively.
Yes, MSU was the primary choice for Emmit Gooden, a four-star defensive end from Brownsville, Tenn., but he ended up enrolling in a Mississippi-based JUCO program.
And yes, Mullen might have coached/mentored two of the SEC’s greatest dual-threat quarterbacks from this century (Tim Tebow at Florida, Dak Prescott at Mississippi State) … but why didn’t that experience translate into snagging one of the Class of 2016’s most heralded versatile quarterbacks?
After all, it’s not like Prescott (9,376 yards passing, 111 career TDs) — easily the greatest quarterback in Bulldogs history — has any remaining eligibility. Right?
The quarterback-related concern is a tangible beef. Given Mullen’s track record and Mississippi State’s rock-solid offensive production since 2010 (averaging 30.5 points per game), the Bulldogs should land a top-15 quarterback every other year — on the presumption each passer would command the offense in two- or three-year cycles.
However, it won’t be a grave concern if Nick Fitzgerald or Elijah Stanley — two heralded dual-threat quarterback prospects from previous years — can emerge from Prescott’s very-large shadow at Mississippi State this fall.
Which brings us to this: Does it need to be argued that Mullen is the greatest coach in Mississippi State history? Or at least on par with Allyn McKeen?
Sure, Mullen (55-35 overall; four bowl wins; annual average of 8.3 victories since 2010) has never claimed a division title or conference championship, but that’s an easy thing to reconcile when housed in the mighty SEC West; and given Mullen’s reputation as an offensive innovator, maximizing his play-making talent, Mississippi State supporters should prefer the finite number of four- and five-star signees going to the defensive side.
For a high-profile program with modest resources, it’s the best recipe for sustainable success.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.