Mullen: Mississippi State more experienced than it appears

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen has a complicated relationship with numbers.

He'll often use them to make a point during a conversation about his team. For instance, he's quick to say that the Bulldogs have been to five straight bowl games - a school record. He's also a big believer in some statistics like turnover margin, which he often says is a huge indicator for winning.

Other numbers make Mullen cringe.

Lately, he has an issue with the number eight. That's the amount of starters the Bulldogs have returning this season - four on each side of the ball.

The perceived lack of experience is a big reason many are picking Mississippi State to finish last in the SEC Western Division this season, even though the Bulldogs are coming off the first 10-win season in school reason.

But Mullen insists this is a veteran football team. The seventh-year coach says last year's rotation was so deep - especially on defense - that the so-called second-string players could have been considered starters.

''You might not play the first play of the game or be in the spotlight of dealing with that pressure of being a starter, but on the field you have that experience,'' Mullen said Friday at the school's media day. ''To me, like Will Redmond for us, he might not have played the first play in a lot of games, but he played the last play in a lot of games.''

Redmond, a 6-foot, 186-pound cornerback, played in 12 games last season, but never started. He finished fifth on the team with 51 tackles and was tied for the team lead with nine pass breakups.

There are others on the defense with similar stats: Linebacker Richie Brown never started but made 50 tackles and had a team-high three interceptions. Safety Kendrick Market made 49 tackles despite just four starts.

Senior quarterback Dak Prescott says experience won't be a problem. The Bulldogs started preseason camp on Monday and play their first game on the road against Southern Mississippi on Sept. 5.

''We've got a lot of guys who have played quality reps in quality games against good teams,'' Prescott said.

Of the eight returning starters, Prescott is undoubtedly the most important and the most accomplished. He was a Heisman candidate for much of last season, throwing for 3,449 yards and 27 touchdowns while also running for 986 yards and 14 touchdowns.

He returned to Starkville for his fifth season after briefly considering a jump to the NFL.

''We need him to have the best year of his career,'' Mullen said. ''I think he's really driven himself and pushed himself this offseason.''

Prescott's success will likely be tied to the development of a revamped running game and offensive line. The Bulldogs have four running backs - Aeris Williams, Ashton Shumpert, Brandon Holloway and Dontavian Lee - who are fighting for the starting job.

They're also replacing three starting offensive linemen. Rufus Warren, a 6-foot-7, 299-pound senior who has spent most of his college career as a tight end, will likely be the starting left tackle.

Prescott didn't seem concerned about the newcomers around him.

''It's just consistency,'' Prescott said. ''I guess I played OK throughout last year, but not great all the time. It's like coach Mullen says, I need to be great from play one all the way to the last play of the season. Can't take a play off or a game off.''

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Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP

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