Saturday night, just before 6 p.m., about 20 Mississippi State seniors will run out and be recognized for the final time at Davis Wade Stadium.
It’s MSU’s annual senior night festivities in Starkville and this particular group has been one of the winningest in the school’s history. For those players that have played the last four seasons, there have been 30 wins total.
Mullen appreciates the time and effort put in by the group and hopes that they finish off the season strong. He, more than anyone, knows how important it is to not get too caught up in emotions before the game as that might have dealt a blow to the team a year ago in the Egg Bowl shortly after seniors like Dak Prescott were recognized.
“A lot of our guys here have put a lot into this program and have had a lot of success here. They have done a lot for the university and for the program and for everyone here,” Mullen said. “We’re playing a really good team, though. We’ve got to be prepared for Arkansas because they’re very dangerous in all phases.”
Never miss a local story.
Seniors like wide receiver Fred Ross will be especially important in this ball game and he’s had some of his biggest moments against the Razorbacks (6-4, 2-4) the last two seasons. In 2014, Ross caught the game-winning, 69-yard touchdown pass to seal the game in the fourth quarter. He hauled in four catches for 107 yards and a score.
Last season, Ross had the game of his career when he caught 10 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns. His one-handed circus catch and run for 55 yards is one of the best highlights of his career.
Now that the senior winds down the greatest career for an MSU receiver in school history, he’s looking back on what the university and the program have meant to him. Ross will leave Starkville with the most catches, yards and 100-yard games in school history. He’s also six touchdowns away from the touchdown record at MSU.
It went much further than the career numbers on the stat sheet for him.
“Mississippi State taught me how to be a man. I had to grow up fast since my freshman year,” Ross said. “I was taught how to be a man in this program going through camp, going through all the stuff I went through. It didn’t do nothing but made me stronger.”
Ross and his senior class have been frustrated in 2016. The Bulldogs have been within striking distance of winning at least three more games but instead are fighting for bowl eligibility for the first time since 2013 when they won the final two games to get to the Liberty Bowl.
It’s a similar situation this season for MSU, which again has to beat Arkansas and Ole Miss to reach a bowl game.
“For us to be in this position, you could blink an eye and we could be 7-3 right now. We should be motivated, though, for the senior class to be able to go to their fourth straight bowl game, which is pretty special,” Mullen said. “I am motivated and I would certainly hope that every single person who walks through that door is very motivated, too.”
When the Bulldogs (4-6, 2-4) take the field on Saturday they’ll have plenty to play for. A top-tier bowl is obviously out of the question, but the importance of a bowl trip cannot be overstated. More than anything, Mullen would love the extra bowl practices for his team.
“It is huge for a young team,” Mullen said. “The last time we were in this situation, we had a very young team. We made it to the postseason and took advantage of it. It helped us grow for the next two years. I think we set a school record in that two-year span with that group of guys getting those extra practices in. So, it will be huge for us to get those extra practices so the young guys can get that experience and get the opportunity to go to a bowl game.”
The Bulldogs and Hogs will kick at 6 p.m. on Saturday with the game televised nationally on ESPNU.
Who: Mississippi State vs. Arkansas
When: 6 p.m., Saturday
Radio: 1490 AM, 1640 AM