Hard as it might be to believe, we have reached the midpoint of the college football season for many of the SEC teams. We look at what's happened to each of them and where they might go from here.
You'll forgive Mississippi State fans if they're a bit giddy right now. You see, the last time State won four of its first six games was in 2007 -- the only bowl year in the long Sylvester Croom Era. This season also marks only the second time since 2000, their last winning season under Jackie Sherrill, that the Western Division Bulldogs pulled off the accomplishment.
And yet, there's still a ways to go. After all, the remaining schedule for the Bulldogs in 2010 includes this weekend's showdown with Florida, a trip to Tuscaloosa and the annual showdown with Arkansas' high-powered offensive attack. Getting two more wins out of the schedule is still more likely than not -- especially with a practical gimme against UAB on deck -- but it's by no means a sure thing.
And a 6-6 record would be about fitting for a team that has been pretty thoroughly average in the SEC this year. The Bulldogs rank sixth in both total offense and total defense. They're relatively close to the conference average in passing and rushing for both categories. They are better than fourth in just two categories -- rushing offense and net punting -- and worse than eighth in just one -- sacks. There's nothing that the Bulldogs do particularly well, but there's nothing that they do particularly poorly, either.
Which is something of an improvement over the disastrous Croom Era, where there were often few things that the Bulldogs did very well and many things that they did rather poorly. You can't really grade Dan Mullen yet on a year and a half at the helm; however, there are many reasons that he will make high marks whenever the time comes to assign his grade.
Of course, Mississippi State might have to be willing to open its relatively small pocketbook to try to keep Mullen in Starkville for another couple of years. At the same time that he seems to be turning things around at Mississippi State, the offense is trending downward in Gainesville, a combination of factors that will cause any midtier BCS team with some extra money to spend to take a look at what Mullen has accomplished. State hasn't had to keep other programs from poaching its head coach in a long time -- and, as a South Carolina fan, I can understand the fact that Bulldog fans probably don't want to talk about this -- but it might be time to find out how skilled the program is at outmaneuvering suitors.
Because there aren't many places in the country where being an average team is something to be applauded and a sign of marked progress. Starkville is one of those locations. Dan Mullen deserves to be rewarded for his ability to turn that team around if he can follow through until the end of the season.
And long-suffering Missisippi State fans deserve to have their program be the one that rewards him.