Update: SEC media day notes, Mississippi State coach talks about late-season collapse

sports@ledger-enquirer.comJuly 17, 2013 

HOOVER, Ala. -- Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen was asked about the Bulldogs' failure to finish strong after a 7-0 start to 2012 and whether that impacted their offseason approach.

"I think it does," he said. "It changes the sense of urgency for some of the guys."

State was 7-0 headed into its 38-7 loss at Alabama, and the Bulldogs would end up losing five of their final six games, only beating Arkansas. They also lost 38-13 to Texas A&M, 37-17 to LSU, 41-24 to rival Ole Miss and 34-20 to Northwestern in the Gator Bowl.

"We were 7-0 at one point in the season, playing in some pretty important football games later in the season," he said. "That's the first time for guys in our program that they've been playing in those level of games that late in the season.

"I do think, possibly, the first loss possibly affected some other games afterwards. I think that was a great learning point for the guys on our team of how to handle that adversity."

'The other school'

Mississippi State enjoyed rival Ole Miss' struggling years under Ed Orgeron and the final two years under Houston Nutt, but Hugh Freeze led the Rebels to victory in his first Egg Bowl, breaking State's three-game winning streak in the series.

Then Freeze delivered a highly touted recruiting class, giving the perception of a momentum swing in Mississippi. Mullen never saw such a twist that he couldn't convert into a veiled swipe against Ole Miss.

"When I got hired, the other school in our state, they'd gone to the Cotton Bowl, won the Cotton Bowl," Mullen said. "We came up from a team that wasn't doing very well and won a couple in a row.

"Now, we've been going to the New Year's Day bowl games the last couple years. They come up, are starting to create some stir."

You think?

"I think certainly when you go around the state of Mississippi, it will make Thanksgiving night this fall a pretty important day throughout the whole state," Mullen said. "Not that it hasn't been before, but I think it is going to draw a lot more attention to it nationally, how important and big that rivalry is for everybody in our state."

Big expectations

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin and Hugh Freeze are entering their second seasons as coaches in the Southeastern Conference's Western Division. Much like Freeze did on Tuesday, Sumlin did his best to temper sky-high expectations people have for the Aggies in 2013 when he spoke at SEC media days Wednesday morning.

"The excitement level is really, really high," Sumlin said. "What we have had to do with our football team is separate ourselves from our fans -- not from a closeness standpoint, but from a reality standpoint."

Sumlin has no problem with students and alumni dreaming big in front of the Aggies this season. Sumlin is more worried about making sure his team doesn't rest on its laurels after an 11-2 season in 2012, a season which included handing national champion Alabama its only loss and routing former Big 12 rival Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.

"As a team, we have to set the reset button," he said. "We signed 31 new players, 31 guys over the last year that are going to come in. Many of them are going to have to help us this season as true freshmen. That's quite a large number, when you have 85 guys on scholarship."

Sumlin cited last season's success as a key factor helping the team on the recruiting trail, but the good vibes from last season have led to a rise in applications to the university as well as more donations from donors. On top of a $450 million expansion to Kyle Field, Texas A&M has made plans for multiple other facility upgrades.

This includes a player development center with a new weight room, a nutrition center named after former Aggies coach R.C. Slocum and an expansion to the lobby at the team's football facility.

"You add all those up, the new player development center was about $9 million, lobby expansion $5 million, nutrition center (was) $12 million," he said. "That's (all) donor-funded. We haven't borrowed a dime for that."

Aggies' OL, secondary

Despite the loss of Outland Trophy winner and the No. 2 overall pick in this year's NFL draft in Luke Joeckel, as well as center Patrick Lewis, Sumlin said the offensive line is set heading into the fall.

"We've rotated some guys in there, and we were able to get through spring football with what I think is a solidified starting five," he said. "We've created a little more depth there."

The same can't be said of the team's back end on defense, as the starters in the secondary are still up in the air.

"Our secondary has a lot of moving parts," he said. "We've got a bunch of capable guys. We have more depth back there, more experience, but the key will be to get those guys in the right place."

Good to be Kingsbury

One of the biggest pieces of the Aggies' success last season was offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury's play calling. However, when his alma mater, Texas Tech, came calling at the end of last year, Kingsbury couldn't turn down the opportunity.

Sumlin said of all the accomplishments in his coaching career, having his assistants -- which includes West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen and Nevada head coach Brian Polian -- move on and take over programs is something he takes great pride in.

"I think we've developed a culture and a mindset and really helped guys become head coaches," he said.

There was no doubt in Sumlin's mind that Kingsbury will do great things in Lubbock, Texas.

"He's a very, very talented individual," Sumlin said. "He's a guy that understands the game of football, understands the politics of the position."

It didn't hurt Kingsbury's career that he's had a mentor in Sumlin, either. Kingsbury made the most of it, as the 33-year-old coaching wunderkind was constantly jotting down notes during their talks.

"(It) kind of bugged me because he was writing stuff I was saying all the time," Sumlin said. "I've made a lot of mistakes. He's been able to talk a bunch of times to me about things that happened. There's no handbook for this job. Things come up that you don't realize (will) come up that are outside of football."

That awkward moment when …

New Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops made his opening comments Wednesday, lauding the huge turnout for the Wildcats' spring game and the general level excitement around the program. Then came the big-brother question.

Stoops was asked about Bob Stoops' recent stoopings about the SEC. The Oklahoma coach said the SEC benefits from "propaganda."

"That's gotta be my first question?" Mark Stoops said.

He went on to say, essentially, that's just how the game is played.

"I certainly understand Bob defending his conference," Mark Stoops said. "I just left the ACC (Florida State), and I think everybody's going to defend what they're doing in their conference.

"That said, I don't think any of us need to defend what's going on here in the SEC."

Pressing Hilltoppic

Stoops' first game at Kentucky, the season-opener again Western Kentucky, is getting more hype in the Bluegrass State than it normally would because Western beat UK a year ago.

Stoops won't shy away from how important the game is to UK's program this year. After all of the offseason excitement about his hiring, he doesn't want a buzz kill that puts UK fans back into the malaise of last season.

"We have an awful lot on the line," Stoops said. "We can't take anything for granted at Kentucky right now. We can't just show up and beat anybody."

Tickets still available

Fans still looking for tickets to reigning national champion Alabama's and Virginia Tech's season opener have options through PrimeSport, the official ticket exchange, VIP hospitality and travel package provider for the 2013 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.

PrimeSport is offering VIP pregame hospitality and travel packages to the game with the assurance of buying directly from the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game's only approved ticket exchange and hospitality provider.

"We couldn't be more excited about this soldout match-up between Alabama and Virginia Tech, with two of the best coaches in college football, Nick Saban and Frank Beamer," said Gary Stokan, Chick-fil-A Bowl president and CEO, in a statement. "Our partnership with PrimeSport provides fans still wanting to attend the game with a safe, dependable and fully authorized method for securing tickets and hospitality packages even if the game is sold out."

PrimeSport is the only official source left for official ticket and hospitality packages. For more information, go to www.primesport.com.

Brick by Brick

New Tennessee head coach Butch Jones knows the program he inherited isn't close to where he wants it to be. After three seasons at Cincinnati, Jones takes over a program in shambles after Derek Dooley's tenure. But Jones has been in this situation before and he plans to use those experiences.

"Well, the circumstances are different," Jones said. "The situations are different. But I think the process and how you develop your football team doesn't change.

"Not only for myself but our entire staff, this is the third time of taking over a football program. So I think we've really aided and benefited that. I think that's why the transition has been extremely seamless. When I look at it, I didn't have to coach a coaching staff. They understand the values and the beliefs and the principles that we're going to abide by."

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