July 22, 2010 8:15:00 AM
HOOVER, Ala. -- Confidence.
It''s a trait Dan Mullen knew would come with success when he entered his first season as Mississippi State football coach.
On Wednesday at Southeastern Conference Media Days, Mullen and the three Bulldogs who accompanied him to the annual event couldn''t stop using the term, especially when describing the difference between last season and now.
After going 5-7 and leading the SEC in rushing yards in 2009, the Bulldogs entered the offseason looking to build on one of the program''s most exciting seasons this decade.
"Our guys believe (based on) how we played last year (that) they can compete with any team in the league," Mullen said. "How we finished the year off, I believe they now believe they can beat any team in this league."
Junior guard Quentin Saulsberry echoed Mullen''s feelings, and talked about how much smoother things have been after settling into a new system and adjusting to new coaches. He described players performing with controlled, 100-percent effort, which wasn''t the case last season when the effort was there but the direction was skewed.
Once the effort was channeled and everyone knew their assignments, the team blossomed into a rushing juggernaut. As an offensive lineman, it was a point of pride.
"We''re taking pride in what we do," Saulsberry said. "It''s one thing coach (Matt) Balis and coach (John) Hevesy always tell us. What are you known for? When you leave here, what''s going to be your legacy? Do you want to be known as a person that''s lazy or a hard worker?"
Saulsberry embodies the team''s transformation from a low-gear offense ranked at the bottom of the league to one of the SEC''s most dynamic attacks.
When Saulsberry was a redshirt freshman, he struggled as a starter at right tackle, a position he hadn''t played. But he credits the guidance of older players like J.C. Brignone and Craig Jenkins for helping mold him into one of the team''s top players.
He has tried his best to provide that same example to his younger teammates, which he hopes will help prepare them to earn early playing time.
"I would say being thrown in the fire made me a better person," Saulsberry said. "I''m not the first player that ever experienced that, and I''m not going to be the last. ... It''s kind of hard being a young person coming out of the high school level, where they''re the man in their high school or in their county, and now you''re a man amongst men. I used what happened to me in the past to help make them better."
The agent issues
SEC media days kicked off with Florida and Alabama having a player investigated by the NCAA for potential improprieties from an agent.
Dan Mullen was happy to be one of the coaches who took the podium without that worry.
Still, his feelings on agents who break the rules to influence a player to sign with his company mirrored those of University of Alabama coach Nick Saban, who went as far as to compare shady agents to "pimps."
Saban, the two-time national champion coach, is awaiting the completion of investigations by the school and the NCAA into whether defensive tackle Marcell Dareus received benefits from an agent or runner at a recent trip to a Miami party.
Going to the party wouldn''t be considered a violation, so long as Dareus didn''t receive money, travel fare, lodging, or any other monetary benefits.
The consensus from coaches Wednesday is agents don''t face enough consequences for their actions, while student-athletes risk their eligibility.
"Until the people that are causing the problem, until they have to face a consequence, it''s going to be pretty hard (to stop)," Mullen said. "We''re disciplined, the student-athlete is disciplined, and the university is disciplined. But the person causing the problem has no consequence."
Mullen is confident in MSU''s ability to educate players about agents and the contact they are allowed to have with them. He said the NCAA hasn''t inquired about any of his players, though he admits several have tried to contact MSU players.
"There''s a lot of reputable agents out there who are going to do things the right way and follow the protocol," Mullen said. "Those are the ones are successful for their clients and their clients are treated real well. If people are going to cheat to get you to do something for them, chances are they''re going to cheat once they get you. We tell our players that if people do it legally and the right way they''re probably going to take care of you."
Mullen stirs the pot
Dan Mullen wasted little time throwing gasoline on the Mississippi State-Ole Miss rivalry, dubbing the latter "The School up North" in his first season in Starkville.
Wednesday brought more of the same from Mullen, as he expectedly dropped the nickname on several occasions.
But a comment Mullen made in response to a statement made by Saban that shows he is full of confidence.
Saban was asked about the NFL''s evaluation of players who come from a spread system, and whether his team''s pro-style offense helps with recruiting the nation''s top talent.
The Alabama coach said it''s difficult for some NFL scouts to evaluate players who come out of a spread offense and that the flux of spread teams might hold back some NFL players.
"I''m not going to knock him," Mullen said of Saban. "I don''t know his personal record. I''ve coached the spread offense and I have a lot more first-round quarterbacks drafted than he has in his career as a head coach. In the last six years, I''ve had two of mine (Alex Smith and Tim Tebow) get drafted in the first round.
"I coached the NFL rookie of the year (Percy Harvin) last year, too, and he was in the spread, so I don''t know. I guess statistically a lot of coaches like to say (the spread hurts development for offensive players). But, if you check the facts, I think the spread offense is developing the players for the NFL at a little higher rate than other offenses."