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Bulldogs still underdogs in their minds


Matthew Stevens



STARKVILLE --┬áIt''s time to embrace to new role in Mississippi State football under coach Dan Mullen: Road favorite. 


"I''ve said it before, but it''s hard to sneak up on people when you start winning New Year''s Day bowl games," MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin said. 


The oddsmakers in Las Vegas have MSU a six- to seven-point favorite for its game at 11:21 a.m. Saturday (WCBI) at Auburn University. With the title as "favorite" comes the pressure from a fan base that expects a win at Jordan-Hare Stadium. 


"Does that (line) mean they''re going to put seven points on the scoreboard when we show up?" Mullen said. "I''m not much into gambling." 


MSU (1-0), which climbed from No. 20 to No. 16 in this week''s Associated Press Top 25 poll, has won three of its last six matchups at Auburn since 1997, but MSU senior quarterback Chris Relf still feels the underdog role still fits his team. 


"I still use the us versus the world," Relf said. "It''s my last game there and I''ve never beaten Auburn, so I have play like that." 


Mullen said he''s not buying the instant hype that Auburn is down from its national championship run of last season after it had to rally for two scores in the final four minutes to beat Utah State 42-38 on Saturday at home. 


"They scored 42 points against an extremely well coached Utah State team," Mullen said Sunday on his media teleconference. "They''re the defending national champs and found a way to win." 


Mullen knows what it is like to be the defending national champions from his time as an assistant coach at the University of Florida. He knows the negatives that can be associated with the title, especially the feeling of entitlement players who had little or nothing to do with winning the championship can feel. 


"We had a lot of guys walk in and expect to win, and we had a bad season in terms of my time there," Mullen said. "There''s some different pressures involved." 




Bulldogs earn best ranking in a decade 


MSU''s jump in the AP poll is its highest ranking since it was No. 17 in the second week of the 2001 season. 


Mullen tried to temper the enthusiasm of the rankings. 


"The poll I kind of take any notice of is the one that comes out in mid January," Mullen said. "The rest is just guess work. What if we''re better than 16? We might be the best team in the country." 


At No. 16, MSU received 594 points in the poll that was released Tuesday morning. 


Auburn, which was No. 23, dropped from the poll following its victory against Utah State. 


LSU, the University of Alabama South Carolina, Arkansas, MSU, and Florida represented the Southeastern Conference. It tied the Big 12 for the most of any league. 


The University of Oklahoma kept the top spot in the AP and the USA Today polls. LSU moved past Alabama into the second spot in the AP poll. Boise State and Florida State rounded out the top five. 


Baylor (No. 20), South Florida (No. 22), Penn State (No. 23), and Texas (No. 24) entered the poll. 


Auburn, Southern California, Notre Dame, and Georgia dropped out. 


MSU jumped three spots to No. 17 in the USA Today Coaches'' Poll, which is used in the formula to crown the Bowl Championship Series national champion. 


Auburn is No. 22 in the USA Today poll. 




Mullen says opening week suspended players practiced 


Mullen hinted the five suspended players last week at the University of Memphis would be available for this week''s SEC opener. 


MSU team spokespeople confirmed Thursday less than two hours before kickoff at the Liberty Bowl that junior defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, redshirt freshman offensive tackle Blaine Clausell, sophomore linebacker Chris Hughes, redshirt freshman quarterback Dylan Favre, and redshirt freshman tight end Malcolm Johnson would be suspended for what was called "various violations of team rules." 


Mullen used the word "if" when asked about the impact of Cox''s return Saturday against Auburn. 


"It''s a big advantage having a guy like Fletcher on the field," Mullen said. "I think you saw how young we are there without him. If we get him back this week, it''s huge to have that." 


Mullen said Tuesday the five suspended players practiced, but he added suspended players "just have different roles" than the active members on gameday.



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