October 22, 2013 9:55:32 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen isn't buying that last weekend should be dubbed "Upset Saturday in the Southeastern Conference," but he acknowledges his players might do that.
"In this league, you have to play your 'A' game, and it's a pretty simple deal," Mullen said Monday when he met with the media in the Leo Seal Family Football Complex. "If you come in and play sloppy, you go turn the ball over a bunch in the first half, it doesn't matter who you're playing, you're not going to win the game."
Mullen doesn't believe his 18- to 22-year-old players share the same perspective.
"Especially with young players, we talk about that kind of stuff and say when you look at the games that are played ... if we play our best game I think we can play with anybody in the league," Mullen said. "If we don't play our best game, we can lose to anybody in the league. It's that focus of performing at the highest level."
While he was offensive coordinator at Florida, Mullen remembers a time when a lack of focus might have contributed to a big loss. Florida, which was No. 1 at the time, lost to Ole Miss 31-30 on Sept. 27, 2008, one week after Ole Miss lost to Vanderbilt. The game is remembered for quarterback Tim Tebow's speech after the loss.
"If you play real well, you have a chance to win the game no matter the record or what happened the previous week or weeks before," Mullen said. "It sounds like a cliche maybe because it's true. Everybody is good in this league and has enough talent to win. That holds true always, and the upset part is something I don't always see."
Kentucky (1-5, 0-3 SEC) has stressed all week that watching Auburn, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee all take down league opponents (Texas A&M, Georgia, and South Carolina) ranked in the top 15 has given it confidence it can get a signature win for first-year head coach Mark Stoops.
"I wasn't expecting any of them teams to win," Kentucky linebacker Avery Williamson said. "It definitely is (something) one of the coaches was saying today, 'You never know who can win a game. It's about who comes to play.' We just gotta stay positive and keep coming out here every day grinding."
MSU (3-3, 0-2) has only been a double-digit favorite against SEC opponents seven times in the past 20 years.
"Anybody is willing to get beat," MSU senior linebacker Deontae Skinner said. "You have to play well in order to go and get that W."
Mullen satisfied with James' development in redshirt season
Mullen said Monday sophomore defensive tackle Nick James will redshirt this season and discussed his progress six weeks into the fall semester.
"He's done a great job," Mullen said.
Mullen suggested in early September that James, a 345-pound defensive tackle from Long Beach who saw action in eight games last year, could be redshirted this season, and that has been the plan since summer workouts. The four-star recruit by Scout.com, ESPN.com and 247Sports played with walk-ons and freshmen on the third-string defense in the preseason. James has been restricted from media access this season. However, James has lost some of the weight the coaches required him to lose, and he continues to try to keep himself eligible to play during the transition period.
"He's really working hard in school and working hard to take care of things the right way," Mullen said. "He has a long way to go, but he's headed in the right direction."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.