July 12, 2013 12:41:20 AM
by DAVID BRANDT
The Associated Press
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State is spending about $100 million to upgrade its football facilities.
The results are starting to show.
When Mississippi State athletics director Scott Stricklin needs a tangible reminder of how fast his program is growing, he takes a short walk to the middle of campus.
A few blocks from his office, things are a mess. There are cranes, bulldozers and construction workers everywhere -- usually humming with activity as work continues on a $75 million renovation to Davis Wade Stadium.
"It's exciting to see the concrete rise up on that north end of the stadium," Stricklin said. "It's not just going to change the football stadium, but it's really going to change the campus in a positive way. It's great to see it become a reality."
Mississippi State's improving football facilities are sorely needed in the ongoing spending spree in the Southeastern Conference. The Bulldogs have pushed their nose right into the middle of the SEC pack in football after years languishing near the bottom of the league and now are trying to build facilities to match.
The new renovations will add more than 6,000 seats to the existing stadium, pushing capacity to 61,337. It also includes plans for a second high-definition video board, premium seating, restrooms and concession stands.
Mississippi State also recently opened the Leo Seal Jr. Football Complex, a $25 million structure that is 80,000 square feet and includes the coaches' offices, weight room, cafeteria, film rooms and other training facilities.
Mississippi State has had three straight winning seasons under coach Dan Mullen, who is entering his fifth season.
"I think what we have created here is a level of stability and high expectations," Mullen said during spring practice. "I believe to win a championship you have to have a solid foundation. It is not just going to come from nowhere ... When you win consistently, the next step for us is to compete for a championship consistently. When you start to do that, you find that you win a championship."
It's a level of sustained success rarely seen in Starkville, leading to packed stadiums and a steady stream of donor money that has helped make the current renovations possible.
Stricklin said the stadium's renovation will take two years -- though a functional version that includes some new concession stands and restrooms will be ready in September.
Now Mississippi State is trying to improve into a championship contender in the SEC, which isn't easy considering the Western Division is packed with power programs like Alabama and LSU.
"I think we're on really solid footing," Stricklin said. "Any successful program has to have a foundation, and we have that thanks to coach Mullen and his staff. Now we have consistency in football and the opportunity to do some things that this program has never done before. These things don't happen overnight -- you've got to be in the mix year after year after year. We're on the right trajectory."
Though the football program has received most of the recent attention when it comes to facilities, Stricklin said other programs won't be far behind.
He specifically mentioned that Dudy Noble Field -- which houses the baseball team -- could see a face-lift in the near future.
The Bulldogs just completed the most successful season in school history in June, winning 51 games and advancing to the finals of the College World Series before losing to UCLA in the championship series.
Fifth-year coach John Cohen has revived a program that was one of the nation's best in the 1980s and 1990s before falling a bit in recent seasons. The fan base has responded: The Bulldogs averaged more than 8,100 fans per game, which ranked fourth in the nation.
"We've got a lot left to do," Stricklin said. "We've got 16 sports and our goal is to be good in all of them. We've got some facility issues with tennis, golf and soccer. And we've also got to turn our attention to Dudy Noble. It's a great atmosphere and great facility, but we need to make sure we pay attention to it, invest in it and make sure it's around for generations to come."