Mississippi State was the focus of last week’s Poll Position, making the most significant move in The Associated Press Top 25. Conventional wisdom may say that there was no way it could top the historical significance of last week’s move from No. 12 to No. 3, which marked the highest ranking in program history. Conventional wisdom may say to look for a different team making a different move this week.
But the Bulldogs have not had much regard for conventional wisdom in 2014.
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In nearly 80 years of AP polls, Mississippi State has never been No. 1. That is, until this week’s Top 25, where the Bulldogs found themselves higher than any other team. They received 45 of 60 votes after Saturday’s convincing 38-23 win against then-No. 2 Auburn, displacing a Florida State team that has been winning, but has not had the opportunity for statement wins like the Dogs have had. Mississippi State’s past three games have all been wins against teams ranked in the AP top 10 at the time. Only four other teams in the history of the AP poll have accomplished that feat.
Florida State garnered 12 first-place votes and came in at No. 2 following its easy win at Syracuse on Saturday. Mississippi, who was tied with its intrastate rival at No. 3 last week, stayed at that position after steamrolling Texas A&M on the road, gathering the final three first-place votes. Baylor and Notre Dame each moved up a spot to round out the top five, setting up a top-five matchup between the Irish and Seminoles in the week ahead. Auburn fell to No. 6.
But ahead of them all, as hard as it may be to believe for those both inside and outside of Starkville, Mississippi, is coach Dan Mullen’s team. Mississippi State had never even been in the top five before last week. The Bulldogs were unranked five weeks ago, and their meteoric rise top the top is the fastest in AP Top 25 history (Ohio State made the move in six weeks in 1964). Expectations weren’t even that high for Mississippi State within its own conference, as it was picked to finish fifth in the SEC West. But after wins against LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn — none of which were all that close — it is clear that this team’s success is no fluke.
Serenaded by the clangs of thousands of cowbells, seemingly louder than ever, Mississippi State jumped out to a quick 21-0 lead against Auburn on Saturday. The Bulldogs took advantage of their opportunities, often provided for them by a defense that forced Auburn into mistakes and turnovers. Torrential rain then seemed to slow the game down, making both teams play sloppy. The Tigers made the game closer, but never truly threatened. Mississippi State had the game in hand.
Dak Prescott, while perhaps not as flawless as he was the previous week in a rout of Texas A&M, continued to build his Heisman resume. He completed 18 of 34 passes for 246 yards, a touchdown, and had two interceptions, but he was also the Bulldogs’ leading rusher with 121 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. With a career total of 53 touchdowns responsible for, he set the school mark on Saturday, surpassing Don Smith’s previous record of 52.
Mississippi State is on a nine-game win streak dating back to last season. Its 251 points this season is a school record, while its defense has allowed opponents to score six touchdowns and enter the red zone just 19 times in six games. Ranked 11th in the nation in points allowed and 25th in yards allowed, it also forced four turnovers on Saturday. A state on-campus record crowd of 62,945 was at Davis Wade Stadium to take the action in.
The top ranking for Mississippi State comes ahead of a bye week. They will return to the field on Oct. 25 at Kentucky, before coming home for games against Arkansas and Tennessee-Martin. The schedule then gets tougher again, with two of the final three games being at Alabama and Ole Miss.
There was a time where simply becoming bowl eligible was significant for Mississippi State. Now, as Mullen pointed out after Saturday’s game, the Bulldogs are bowl-bound in the minimum number of games. But with a No. 1 ranking to their name now, goals are starting to become loftier — and perhaps more attainable — than they have been in the program’s history.
Notes from the rest of the Top 25:
No. 9 Oregon and No. 10 Georgia each moved up three spots after blowout wins against ranked teams. … Southern California, Clemson and Marshall entered the poll. … At No. 25, It is Marshall’s first time in the Top 25 since 2002. … UCLA, Georgia Tech and Missouri dropped out.
— MSU Football (@HailStateFB) October 12, 2014