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Has Mullen reached his peak at MSU?

Dan Mullen came into the Mississippi State head football coaching job five years ago with high expectations.

And it’s easy to understand why. Mullen came to Mississippi State from Florida, where he served under Urban Meyer as offensive coordinator for several years. He helped lead the Gators to two national championships. He coached all-world quarterback Tim Tebow.

After a pedestrian 5-7 season in his first year coaching the Bulldogs, Mullen led MSU to a 9-4 years in 2010, followed by 7-6 and 8-5 seasons in 2011 and 2012. In his first three seasons, Mullen’s Bulldogs squads beat Ole Miss, which is always important to the MSU fanbase.

After his first two years, it looked like Mullen and MSU were ready to take the next step. Instead of just posting a winning season, the Bulldogs looked primed to compete for Western Division titles. MSU seemed so close to getting over that hump.

But the Bulldogs never quite reached that next plateau. The 2011 season saw the Bulldogs lose against every ranked team they played. In 2012, MSU began the season 7-0 before heading into a matchup with then No. 1-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala. After falling to the Tide, 38-7, MSU won just one game after that against an unranked Arkansas squad. Mullen also fell to Ole Miss for the first time last season, 41-24.

Now, the Bulldogs and Mullen sit at a crossroad of sorts, as MSU is currently 2-2 with losses to Oklahoma State and Auburn. After having a bye week this past week, the Bulldogs are set to face an LSU squad that appears to be every bit as formidable as the Tigers have been in recent years.

MSU’s two losses don’t exactly inspire confidence about the Bulldogs winning any games of significance this season. After LSU, the Bulldogs have matchups with Bowling Green and Kentucky before starting a three-game stretch against South Carolina, Texas A&M and Alabama.

What’s been the Bulldogs’ Achilles heel? I certainly don’t think Mullen is a bad coach. He’s done more than his predecessor, Sylvester Croom, was able to accomplish in Starkville. Meyer was always at his best when Mullen was by his side — just as any Florida Gators fan.

If I had to guess, I’d say the Bulldogs’ inability to win against top-tier teams is more talent-related than anything. MSU simply doesn’t have the talent to compete against the likes of LSU, Alabama and a Johnny Manziel-led Texas A&M. Mullen could be the best coach in the world, but he’s not on the field trying to make plays. If MSU wants to do more than just have winning seasons here and there, the school is going to have to attract top-tier talent.

The question on the minds of a lot of Bulldogs fans is, has MSU peaked under Mullen? There’s still a lot of football left to play. But if another season goes by and the Bulldogs haven’t beaten anyone of consequence, fans might become a little more vocal in asking that question.