Mississippi State Sports Blog


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Mullen and Gundy have two distinctly different opinions on Texas Kickoff Classic game




Matt Stevens


STARKVILLE - It's just too easy to identify two distinctly different viewpoints for the Texas Kickoff Classic game that will open the 2013 season opener between Mississippi State University and No. 14 Oklahoma State University.  


I'll have a feature running in Friday's edition of the The Dispatch breaking down the differences between Mullen and Gundy's public comments toward this game but thought I'd give you a sneak peek on the thoughts leading up to the piece.  


MSU coach Dan Mullen, who is in his fifth year in Starkville, is, at least publicly, projecting the image of excitement and energy about having the opportunity to open the season at Reliant Stadium in Houston in front of a national television audience.  


However, Mullen's message coming out of MSU is nothing in the practice routine of fall camp will change from a scheduling standpoint simply because the opponent is Oklahoma State as compared to a Football Championship Subdivision school.  


"With such a big first game that we have to start the year off, on the road in Houston against a team I think a lot of people picked to win their conference, that is top-15 team nationally, it's a great challenge for us, it's a great honor to be asked to play in one of those games to start the season off," Mullen said Tuesday during the school's media day. "I think that's pretty special, I think it shows where our program has come over the last couple of years that we get the invite to play in a Kickoff Game against a top national team, that people think so much about to put us in that game." 


"So we're excited about those things and I know we're excited to get the season kicked off and underway, let our guys transition from the hard work of practice into enjoying the rewards of game day." 


The game will represent the first time MSU will open up the season against a Bowl Championship Series non-conference opponent under Mullen and the first time in school history in a decade since Oregon defeated the Bulldogs 42-34 at Davis Wade Stadium.  


"This is a great opportunity for our team to open the 2013 season in an NFL stadium," MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin said. "It provides our fans a unique destination for the season opener. We have a great fan base in Texas, as well, who will be excited to see the Bulldogs play in their home state." 


Mullen and Stricklin worked in conjunction to agree to the contract that pays the MSU athletic department $2 million. Boss and employee in Starkville are on relatively the same page philosophically on playing such a game early in the season even with the gauntlet league schedule of the Southeastern Conference Western Division.  


"I probably better answer that question on September 1, the day after that game, to see how we prefer it better," Mullen joked at SEC media day on July 17. "I think the sense of urgency starting with a big-time game like we're going to have to start the year off, I think that really draws that urgency right from day one that the clock is ticking to kickoff." 


This should be seen a true adaption of the views of both Stricklin and Mullen as I asked the MSU athletics director that specific question about a perceived soft non-conference schedule - this was Stricklin's response in 2010.  


My hope is we play a really good high-profile non-conference opponent every December or January," he said referencing a bowl game. "I want to schedule in a way that allows us the opportunity to do that." 


As a college football coach, Mullen hasn't seen a team he's coaching line up in the first month with a high profile non-conference matchup since 2008 when as offensive coordinator of University of Florida , he saw the Gators win 26-3 at home against the University of Miami. Mullen's boss Urban Meyer and his boss UF athletic director Jeremy Foley saw the positives in playing such a contest.  


"I don't feel like they get caught up in the hoopla at all," Meyer said the week of the game in 2008. "They just want to get to that game and play. I do invite former players back in the summer and have them talk about those kinds of things but I think what motivates these guys is playing on Saturday night on ESPN 'GameDay' in front of their families more than anything else." 


Cut to Stillwater, Okla., where Cowboys coach Mike Gundy admitted to nearly leaving the school for another job this offseason over this game along with future non-conference matchups signed by Oklahoma State athletics director Mike Holder. No....this really almost happened (http://www.cbssports.com/collegefootball/blog/jeremy-fowler/21965559/how-mike-gundy-nearly-became-a-tennessee-vol) 


Gundy isn't happy his program will be playing competitive non-conference games as the Cowboys will also line up next year against Florida State University in Cowboys Stadium.  


"We've had a formula at Oklahoma State over the last really five, six, seven years that we feel like gives us the best chance to be strong, be in great shape, and be fresh at the end of the season so our teams can perform at the highest level," Gundy said at Big 12 media day. "We have to alter that some when we play teams early in the season, particularly the first game, that are very capable of having success against your team if you don't play well." 


Does that sound like a coach that is coming into fall camp with a Top 15 nationally-ranked team and the consensus pick to win its BCS league? No.  


The issue that is confusing is the head coach that has never opened a season against a BCS school (Mullen) and never coached his team in a season-opening kickoff classic couldn't be more positive (at least publicly) about the situation. And his team will be a 13-point underdog when they kick the ball off in Houston on Aug. 31.  


This isn't new territory for Gundy - at all. In 2007 and 2009 Oklahoma State opened against the University of Georgia. The Cowboys lost 35-14 at Georgia in 2007 but beat the Bulldogs 24-10 in Stillwater in 2009, a game that christened the then-new Boone Pickens Stadium. 


Thanks to a wonderful in-depth column by Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman (http://newsok.com/oklahoma-state-football-tough-openers-nothing-new-for-cowboys/article/3871613), In Les Miles' four seasons as head coach in Stillwater, Oklahoma State opened the season with a road games at the University of Southern Mississippi (2001), Louisiana Tech University (2002), University of Nebraska (2003) and the University of California at Los Angeles (2004). 


In 13 years of Miles/Gundy football, OSU has opened versus a non-BCS opponent at home only four times: Montana State University (2005), Missouri State University (2006), University of Louisiana-Lafayette (2011) and Savannah State University (2012). 


"We've always talked, and we'll continue to talk," Holder said of Gundy. "He wants to play all his games in Stillwater, and I'm in the same camp. But it's not always practical or possible to do that ... Whenever possible, we're going to schedule in Stillwater." 




All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.



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