September 4, 2009 8:24:00 AM
It will be a game of firsts at 2:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU) when Mississippi State plays host to Jackson State.
From a historical factor, the matchup is the first in football between teams from the Southeastern and Southwestern Athletic conferences.
It also is the beginning of the coach Dan Mullen era at Mississippi State.
Mullen said those two things add to the anticipation as kickoff nears.
"I''ve wanted to be a head coach my whole life," Mullen said. "To have this opportunity is unbelievable, and now that the week is here, it''s another first for me."
Senior wide receiver Brandon McRae can sense the excitement surrounding Mullen''s first game.
"You can feel it in the air and all over campus," McRae said. "I like coach Mullen because he''s intense."
Mullen expects to be calm and focused on what''s happening on the field Saturday. He doesn''t anticipate yelling or screaming because that''s not how he was as an assistant.
Still, the subject has caused a few chuckles from Mullen''s coaching staff this week.
"They can''t wait to see how my personality will change as we get closer to game time, whether I''ll loosen up or tighten up," Mullen said. "It''s something that''s an unbelievable experience. I feel a little bit different than I did the last couple of weeks, and I think our team does. The whole mind-set of our team is changing to get ready to play a football game."
Florida coach Urban Meyer observed how Mullen, who was an offensive coordinator for the Gators, went about his business the past nine years. He believes Mullen has a plan that will work for the Bulldogs.
"He''s a big-picture guy," Meyer said. "He''s extremely intelligent, organized, and has the ability to manage a game. He''s going to be fine there."
Jackson State coach Rick Comegy has heard about Mullen''s organizational skills. The thing he likes most about Mullen is the relationships he has built with his players.
"The kids love him as a coach and he''s a player''s coach," Comegy said. "What I can see is he''s a first-class operator and he get kids to play for him. I''m happy to hear that.
"I''ve seen his history, what he''s done (at Florida), and he has knowledge of the game. I''m proud to be able to walk out on the same field with him."
The scheduling of Jackson State took place before Mullen got to MSU, but he recognizes what the game means for the state.
"Hopefully it can develop (into an in-state rivalry) if it can be played on more of a regular basis," Mullen said. "Many of these kids grew up playing against each other at all levels of football throughout the years. That''s what makes in-state rivalries."
The Bulldogs have played the Tigers in other sports, but not in football.
MSU senior quarterback Tyson Lee, of Columbus, likes the idea of playing in-state games, which is something the Bulldogs haven''t done against a school other than Ole Miss since 1990 (Southern Mississippi).
"Any time you can play somebody from your home state, it''s a big-time game," Lee said. "Getting the chance to play Jackson State, something we haven''t done, it will be good for us, them and for everyone in the state."
MSU is paying Jackson State $315,000 for the trip. It''s the highest payout the Tigers have received.
"We''re very pleased to get this opportunity, and we want to thank Mississippi State for giving us an opportunity to come up and play in such a historical game," Comegy said. "We''re doing things as normal as we practice and prepare for a football game. We''re getting our kids ready.
"We''ve got a long season ahead of us and we don''t want to drop everything in just one bucket, but we''re excited about getting this chance."
Finishing practice strong
After what Mullen calls "a solid week of practice," he said the players are ready for game competition and the opportunity to go against an opponent.
"They want to hit somebody else," Mullen said. "It starts to get a little bit more edgy that last week. They start getting a little antsy."
The Bulldogs had dinner together Thursday after practice.
"They are getting used to that routine," Mullen said. "As we go, they are going to settle in more and more. The coaches and players will feel more comfortable."
Kelly honorary captain
Former MSU and Aberdeen High School tight end Reginald Kelly will serve Saturday as honorary captain for the Bulldogs.
Kelly, who lettered at MSU from 1995-98, plays professionally with the Cincinnati Bengals, but is out for the season due to an Achilles tendon injury. In his 10-year career, Kelly has caught 184 passes for 1,718 yards and five touchdowns in 152 games with the Bengals.
1. Heritage Academy wins boys' basketball state championship HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
2. MSU men knock off South Carolina in overtime HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
3. Columbus boys move within three wins of state title HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
4. West Lowndes drops playoff contest at home HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
5. New Hope earns trip to Jackson HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS