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Mississippi State is the No. 1 college football program in the country for the first time. In the past three weeks, the Bulldogs have topped three-straight top-10 opponents: No. 8 LSU, No. 6 Texas A&M and No. 2 Auburn.
Michael Bonner, who covers the Bulldogs for the Clarion-Ledger, joined Bill Littlefield to discuss the team's success.
BL: Michael, how did MSU rise from unranked in the AP poll to No. 1 in just five weeks, which, by the way, is the fastest a team has accomplished that since 1977?
It's great to see -- for the state -- something that they take such pride in to be so successful.Michael Bonner, Clarion-Ledger
MB: Well, to answer that I think you have to start with quarterback Dak Prescott. He came in last season as the backup, and Tyler Russell was injured in the opening game. And since then he's really won over his teammates; won over his fans. He battled back and forth last season and then this was his year to be "the guy," and he certainly has taken the reins and taken off with it, as Mississippi State, as you said, is the No. 1 team for the first time in program history.
BL: People are now talking about Mr. Prescott as a top pick for the Heisman Trophy. This is in part because of the suspension of Georgia tailback Todd Gurley. But, still, the Dak Attack must be something to see.
[sidebar title="The Gurley Suspension" width="630" align="right"] Georgia running back Todd Gurley isn't the only college football star being investigated for his autograph signings. [/sidebar]
MB: It really is. And it took off, really, last season The final game of the season at the Liberty Bowl when he scored a Liberty Bowl-record six touchdowns. And from that time on, it's really been the momentum. There were whispers in the spring and then it grew bigger in the summer and, really, with his performance this fall — three wins against top-1o teams; the fifth college football team to ever do that — it's really gone on to have a mind of its own. And you really can't argue. As you said he's probably the front-runner right now.
BL: Of Dan Mullen, you wrote, "Fans began to question the head coach's direction last season. Now they aren't opposed to a lifetime contract." Are fans really that fickle or is Dan Mullen really that good a coach?
MB: They are that fickle. Last year fans were really jumping on the hot-seat bandwagon. They were questioning whether he should be given another year. And really they fought and scraped to become bowl eligible. They made it to the Liberty Bowl and fans were, "OK, let's see what happens next year." And now it's very funny how fans can react in the sense of, a year ago today, fans were wanting him to leave. Now they're afraid he may leave.
BL: Last week, MSU Athletic Director Scott Stricklin warned fans that if their behavior didn't change the school might have to install metal detectors at the gates. But you characterized behavior at last Saturday's game as "all legal." This sounds serious. What's the issue?
MB: If only it was actually serious. I guess that's the good news. They were in reference to cowbells. It's a tradition that began in the '40s or '50s, legend has it, where a cow ran onto the field against the biggest rival Ole Miss. And Mississippi State was losing. They came back after the cow ran onto the field, so that was the good luck charm. Fans thought it was much easier to just bring cowbells rather than an actual cow to the game, and that's how the cowbell tradition began.
The SEC only allows ringing at certain times during the game. This is all true. So they were ringing the bells at improper times and they were actually fined $25,000 last year for improper ringing. So Scott Stricklin was saying, "They can take them away; let's not have them take the bells away."
BL: I've heard of the NCAA doing all manner of silly things but fining someone for improper ringing of cowbells has to go right to the top of the list.
MB: And if they caught one more time it's a $50,000 fine.
BL: Rounding out the historic firsts, Ole Miss, aka the University of Mississippi, also won their first six games of the season. This is the first time both universities have managed that feat. What is in the water in Mississippi these days?
MB: It's a good question. I think if anyone knew they would bottle that water and keep it for future football seasons. But it's just something. It's been a magical season, as the athletic director from Mississippi State Scott Stricklin said. He was born and raised in Mississippi and he said, as much as they are rivals, it's great to see — for the state — something that they take such pride in to be so successful.
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This segment aired on October 18, 2014.
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