Can Joe Moorhead capitalize on what Dan Mullen built?
Dan Mullen did a remarkable job building Mississippi State into a consistent bowl program. Though Mullen wasn’t able to seriously challenge for an SEC West title during his tenure in Starkville, he elevated the talent level, developed overlooked recruits into pro prospects, and overall left the program in a far better position than he found it.
On paper, the 2018 Bulldogs have the look of a team that could finally take the next step. Early figures from Connelly show Mississippi State is the most experienced team in the SEC in terms of overall returning production. Assuming Nick Fitzgerald returns healthy, the Bulldogs are set to welcome back 81 percent of their overall production from 2017, which ranks No. 8 nationally. Offensively, State welcomes back 82 percent of last year’s production, which is third best in the conference and ranks No. 21 in FBS. The numbers are similar on defense at 80 percent, second in the conference and 21st overall.
That’s great news for new head coach Joe Moorhead, who was an inspired choice to replace Mullen after he left for Florida. However, coaching changes are rarely seamless. Sure, Barry Switzer, Larry Coker and Chris Petersen were undefeated in Year 1 at Oklahoma, Miami and Boise State, respectively, but all three were promoted from within and were able to maintain some level of continuity within the program. Regardless of how well Moorhead did as an offensive play-caller at Penn State or as head coach at Fordham, the challenges of establishing a new coaching staff in a new conference and a completely new geographical footprint are significant factors.