As he began his tenure at Mississippi State, Dan Mullen found a well-packaged storyline that indicated recruiting success to his fans, who were suffering through their rivals having trounced them 45-0 en route to a Cotton Bowl victory, wild preseason expectations, and a fantastic recruiting class (some of which have already chosen, allegedly, cigarettes and girls over football; whatever). "Winning the in-state recruiting battle," he said was the thing the 'Dawgs were doing right. Mississippi was chock-full of football talent. Heck! She's only produced Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, and Brett Favre. I strain to think of another state that has produced first-ballot Hall of Famers at the three offensive skill positions.
He did it, of course, to rally his fan base and get under the skin of his rivals. It's why he does everything he does. And, for me, it worked.
Ghost is going to be so mad at me for admitting it. He calls Mullen's little song and dance ... "provincial," or something like that. And it especially pisses him off that Mullen comes in having never lived in the South (that's right, Gainesville, I'm calling you out) to use methods perfected at Ohio State to get Mississippi all worked up about a rivalry that - hate to admit it - seen this much action since the late Nineties. Though there is likely some metaphysical machine in a barn in Starkville that runs off of my frustrations and cow shit, I admit freely that not even when State ruined our shot at the SEC Championship Game in 2002 or when Sylvester planted his flag on Scott Field after Derek Pegues got Ed Orgeron fired (the Shrimp Boat Cap'n, incompetent though he may have been - was not "Croomed," that man was "Pegues'd").
"Winning the in-state recruiting battle," of course, is a silly little thing that will only get me worked up in the off-season. When actual football starts and my fellow Rebels from Louisiana, Georgia, and Florida start proving themselves more competent than the athletes playing at Oktibbeha Occupational Training School, I will quickly forget all this.
Sometimes, though, I start writing a blog post without knowing exactly how the facts will bear out; then, I feel some journalistic obligation to go ahead and report what I found. Here's the story: I wanted to prove Dan's little storyline wrong because I theorized that his roster did not reflect his rhetoric. I mean, I thought that it was likely that the number of contributing players for the Rebels and the Bulldogs were comparably located, geographically; there would be as many out-of-state players contributing at State as there are at Ole Miss.
I was wrong.
Five starters wearing Red and Blue hail from the Magnolia State, compared with 16 for the Maroons. That is a significant difference. The flip side, of course, is that our five starters from Mississippi compare favorably against the the five best Mississippians (subjectively, DB Nickoe Whitley, LB K.J. Wright, OL Quentin Saulsberry, WR Chad Bumphis, and RB Robert Elliot; their savior Tyler Russell does not count because he is riding that bench) who most frequently visit The Pony (have I hit all the State jokes, yet?). The five starting Mississippian for TSUN are DT Jerrell Powe, OL Bradley Sowell, WR Markeith Summers, LB Allen Walker, and DB Johnny Brown. I'll take our five Mississippians any day. And, my strong emotions about this great, frustrating state aside, Brandon Bolden is a much better back than Robert Elliot and Kentrell Lockett can outrun and outwit Pernell McPhee any day of the week. Would I trade K.J. Wright for D.T. Shackelford? I don't think so.
The sordid truth of it all is this: Dan Mullen uses his region-centric rhetoric in an attempt to fire up those who, like me, have protective emotions about this state that we cannot fully rationalize. The truth, though, is that when you start playing games, the numbers will not lie. Florida has 28 million people; it's not surprise that top-notch players like Dexter McCluster, Lawon Scott, or, say, Pernell McPhee are going to come in larger numbers from the Sunshine State than they do the Magnolia State. I want Mississippi to prove her rich gridiron tradition, but the truth that Dan Mullen will, eventually, find is that Mississippi does not have the human resources to adequately staff one competitive SEC team, much less three.