I’ve never seen it like that before. Really haven’t. Waiting on Dan Mullen to arrive for his post-game press conference, the media room was more crowded than it’s ever been. Second place, whatever it is, isn’t even close. Just like the game, it was standing-room only at Mississippi State.
“You know it’s a big game,” Mullen said, looking over at a cluster of national media. “It’s like the who’s who of college football.”
ESPN, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, CBS, the Washington Post. Name a big outlet, they were probably there, listening to Dan Mullen talk about his No. 3 [and rising] Bulldogs beat No. 2 Auburn in front of the horde of recorders, cameras and notepads.
Someone asked Mullen if he thought his team should be No. 1 in the country. Like any good coach, he danced around the question and didn’t give a real answer. But then he looked around.
“Raise your hand if you have a vote,” he said.
A few played along, voters raising their hands.
“Ask them,” he said. “Chris, are we number one?” he asked ESPN’s Chris Low.
“You got my vote,” Low said.
Mullen later apologized for putting him on the spot, but Low didn’t mind. He does think Mullen’s team should be the top-ranked club in the country. As did most everyone in the room, all those local, regional and national reporters who then dispersed to write stories about The Great Mississippi State.
Nation, meet MSU. MSU, meet the Nation.
Starkville, as well as the state of Mississippi, was already the center of attention the last couple weeks. The sudden surge by Magnolia State teams ensured that. But it’s the continued success these reporters are interested in.
MSU isn’t a feel-good story anymore. It’s not about an upset or a heartwarming moment. It’s about good football. Great football. The best football in the country, at least according to a few of those surrounding Mullen after the game.
MSU has beaten three-straight Top-10 teams, all of them members of the Group of Death that is the SEC Western Division.
What’s funny, though, is how the world of college football has latched onto Mississippi State. Junior quarterback Dak Prescott – one of the top Heisman candidates at this point – is the favorite storyline of all these guys and gals coming to campus to write something, anything about the upstart Bulldogs.
But when it comes to game time, when the country collectively watches the game together on Twitter, it keeps coming back to one thing.
“It’s a rare form of goose bump that comes from thousands of #cowbells,” the Washington Post’s Chuck Culpepper tweeted.
A few hours earlier, Chris Fowler was beating on a cowbell with a drumstick as ESPN’s College GameDay finished their broadcast from just outside Davis Wade Stadium, sitting next to former MSU pitcher Jonathan Papelbon who was hugging a Lee Corso ringing a cowbell from underneath his Bulldog head.
Tweeted Yahoo! Sports’s Pat Forde, “Until fans have to holster their cowbells during game action, this is possibly the loudest stadium I’ve been in. Oppressive.”
A few minutes before that post-game interview with Mullen, a fully-grown man ran down the hallway leading to the media room, ringing a cowbell and yelling, “Number one in the land, baby!”
The operative hashtag is #CLANGA. I think Whit Waide, called ‘The People’s Professor’ at MSU, was the first I saw to refer to the sound of cowbells as “clanging.” Spencer Hall of SB Nation was the first I saw to turn that into the ALL-CAPS cowbell-ed onomatopoeia hashtag of #CLANGA.
9:30 a.m. Saturday, watching GameDay from The Junction, that’s all Hall tweeted.
All-caps and hashtag required.
The night before, MSU hosted Cowbell Yell in the stadium, a 15,000-person pep rally celebrating the farm-functional instrument.
Clanging, voting, tweeting, writing – at the end of this, folks are talking about MSU. Mississippi State, who could be the No. 1 team in the country by the end of the weekend, is the story of college football right now, cowbells and all.
Mullen is the voice, Prescott is the face and #CLANGA is the soundtrack.
But it’s not some miracle, fairy godmother-granted Disney story. It’s years of work, a roster full of talent and a coaching staff devoting nearly every waking moment (and sacrificing a lot of would-be sleeping moments) to build a contender.
On defense, MSU is dominating in the front seven. They are huge, deep, fast, aggressive, and more important than anything, they’re incredibly smart. Defensive coordinator Geoff Collins is the reason for that.
In nearly every game they play, Mullen’s team has the best player on both sides of the ball – Prescott on offense and middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney on defense. Not to mention top recruit Chris Jones and three-time defensive lineman of the week Preston Smith on Collin’s unit. Or rising star receiver De’Runnya Wilson who has only been playing football two-and-a-half years or impossible-to-tackle running back Josh Robinson on offense.
These Bulldogs are good. And they’re deep. It’s been almost six years in the making since Mullen took over in December of 2008.
And they’re a team that believes they’re going to win every game they play. That’s not bravado or coach speak. These Bulldogs have gone into every game without ever even having the thought they might lose. And so far, they haven’t.
MSU isn’t a nice story anymore. MSU is the story. The last three games have cemented that.