STARKVILLE — Today is one of Dan Mullen’s favorite days of the year.
For the fifth consecutive year, Mullen will open fall camp at Mississippi State University and do what he loves to do: Teach.
Mullen and his coaches will spend the two hours of their first practice of the season teaching new players about the intensity and the expectations involved in a college football practice.
“I want a lot of learning to get accomplished,” Mullen said last August on the first day of camp. “Day one it is about getting repetitions for guys, getting them comfortable. It is hard to evaluate guys until they are fully comfortable with what we expect them to do.”
MSU will practice at 5 p.m. today. It will be the first time the Bulldogs’ 105 players will be on the field together, and their first step in their preparation for the season opener against Oklahoma State University at 2:30 p.m. Aug. 31 (WKDH-WTVA) at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas.
OSU is the projected favorite to win the Big 12 Conference by the league coaches, which means the opener easily is the most difficult first game in Mullen’s five years at MSU. As a result, the practices will have a different tone and demeanor.
At Southeastern Conference Media Days two weeks ago in Hoover, Ala., Mullen with more than 300 media members that he joked he didn’t know if playing OSU was a good idea. He said he wouldn’t have an answer to that question until after the game, but he knows mistakes are even less acceptable this month because of the quality of the opponent.
“I think it gets the attention of the players a lot more,” Mullen said July 17. “I think starting with a big-time game really draws that urgency from day one that the clock is ticking to kickoff.”
For the first time since 2007, MSU will open up its season against a Bowl Championship Series opponent. Normally, the team has played a Football Championship Series opponent, the University of Memphis, or Louisiana Tech University. MSU has won all four season openers with Mullen as coach. The Bulldogs have defeated Jackson State and Memphis by an average of 43 points. MSU’s last loss in a season opener was a 22-14 setback against Louisiana Tech in 2008.
“There’s already a countdown after the way we finished the season last year,” MSU junior tight end Malcolm Johnson said Monday, referring to the team’s 8-5 finish in 2012. The Bulldogs won their first seven games and then fell on hard times, including losses to the University of Mississippi and Northwestern University (Gator Bowl) in their final two games. “From the moment we walked off the field with that loss in Jacksonville (Fla., against Northwestern) we knew that would be our next chance to show what we’re capable of on a big stage.”
Mullen hopes today’s practice begins a process that will help him and his assistant coaches answer questions about positional battles at defensive back and wide receiver. Today’s session also will provide a first glimpse of newcomers like five-star defensive line prospect Chris Jones and returning players like backup quarterback Dak Prescott, who had surgery in the offseason.
“I think that focus that they have when you enter camp, knowing what a big game it’s going to be week one really changes the demeanor of the team, not just in training camp, but over the summer as well,” Mullen said. He hopes fifth-year senior quarterback Tyler Russell will set the tone and bring leadership to the team in the preseason.
Today’s practice will be the first of six open practices through Sunday. On Friday, the Bulldogs will host a split-squad practice. The first group will start at 7:30 a.m., while the second group will begin at 6 p.m. On Saturday, the first squad will go at 8:30 a.m. The second group will wrap up the day with a 2:30 p.m. practice. The last open practice will be at 12 p.m. Sunday.
The annual Fan Day Celebration will be at 1 p.m. Aug. 24 in the Palmeiro Center. Fan Day, a yearly kick-off meet-the-team celebration, will feature players and coaches signing autographs, photo opportunities with Bully, and several other fun features. Doors will open at noon, and players and coaches will be in attendance from 1-3 p.m.
Also on Aug. 24, student ticket sales will begin at the Davis Wade Stadium office.