HOOVER, Ala. -- Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said a three-game winning streak at the end of last season and a large contingent of returning starters give the team considerable momentum entering this season.
"I think we have built a solid foundation for our program, upon which we want to build a championship," Mullen said Tuesday at SEC Football Media Days. Officially, his team returns 17 starters -- eight on offense and nine on defense. But Mullen said 30 players are back who started at least one game at some point last season, 15 on each side of the ball.
"I think with how last season ended and a lot of young guys coming back, the team immediately put a lot of expectations on themselves ... of what they want to accomplish this year," Mullen said. "Our expectations are to find a way to get to Atlanta and compete for that SEC championship this year."
Getting to Atlanta, of course, would require winning the powerful SEC West, which Mullen called "the most competitive conference in college football."
Mississippi State was 7-6 (3-5 SEC) last season, closing with consecutive victories over Arkansas, Ole Miss and Rice, the latter in the Liberty Bowl. Mississippi State's five SEC losses came to teams that finished the season ranked among the nation's top 18: Auburn (24-20), LSU (59-26), South Carolina (34-16), Texas A&M (51-41) and Alabama (20-7).
"I think there are seven coaches in the SEC West that expect to find a way to get to Atlanta and win our side of the league," Mullen said. "That is not coach talk. There are seven coaches sitting there in the SEC West that expect to go to Atlanta.
"Last year, with Auburn winning (the West), it was a wide open pack because I don't think a lot of people expected them to get there."