Bowl games are strange in the way that they don’t technically have much meaning or bearing on the individual seasons of the teams involved, but they have the ability to make a world of difference in ways that don’t show until months after the event. Momentum isn’t tangible or measurable, but to coaches and their teams, it can be of severe importance and have tremendous impact.
Mississippi State is on the good side of such a momentum swing right now following a 55-20 blowout of Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl to finish the regular season, and it’s because of that win that the Bulldogs are in St. Petersburg right now for a bowl game. A bowl game, head coach Dan Mullen says, that’s an opportunity to multiply the momentum and keep it going between now and the beginning of the 2017 season. Now coaching in his seventh postseason at MSU, Mullen is quick to share how meaningful these games are, despite what some might consider to be something of a lack of meaning.
“It’s huge,” he said. “We don’t play again until September. I don’t want to be miserable for nine months.”
What happens between now and September will go a long way in determining what happens when 2017, and what happens on December 26 against Miami (Ohio) will go an equally long way in determining what happens during that long offseason.
“You want to finish on that win,” Mullen said. “A win in a bowl game, when you show back up in January, you’re excited to get going again. I think it can really energize you to get going again.”
The best example from Mullen’s tenure may also be the most apt comparison for the current trajectory of the program. When MSU had its historic run to No. 1 in the 2014 season, it came on the heels of a winning streak and a bowl game blowout victory to end the 2013 campaign. Coaches and players said then, as reported on this blog, that they felt the finish to the season set them up for big things in 2014.
Consider the similarities between the 2013 season and the one MSU is currently having in 2016. Both teams entered the month of November with no one expecting them to make a bowl. Both teams were very young but started clicking as the season went on. Both teams featured sophomores at quarterback and running back who looked like future stars. Both teams were stocked with talented but yet-to-be fully developed youth on defense. Both teams had injuries, low moments and even occasional field goal kicking issues.
And both teams got the Golden Egg back.
In 2013, MSU dominated Rice in the Liberty Bowl, then carried their momentum all the way to No. 1 in the country in 2014.
Which brings us back to December 26, the St. Petersburg Bowl and a young MSU team ready to blossom in 2017. Will they finish 2016 in a similar fashion? Make a similar jump into national conversation in 2017? Asked about the comparison, Mullen didn’t concede too much, but he did confess, alittle momentum would go a long way.
“If we win this game,” Mullen said, “we’ll see. Hopefully that enthusiasm carries us into offseason conditioning and spring practice. We’ve got a lot of good young players on this team, a lot of good young talent. We’re excited about out future.”