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Road to Saturday: Mississippi State looking for respect against Tennessee

Frank Schwab
Dr. Saturday

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(Associated Press)

Mississippi State should be excited. The Bulldogs are 5-0 for the first time since 1999 and just the fourth time in program history. They even got a mention by Pat Forde on his video this week discussing deep sleepers to play in the BCS Championship Game.

The Bulldogs also know that five good games won't earn ultimate respect from their SEC brethren. Beating Tennessee on Saturday (9 p.m. ET) would be a good step towards that, however.

Mississippi State is not one of the SEC's most successful programs. It has won one SEC title, back in 1941. But under coach Dan Mullen, the Bulldogs have some momentum this year.

The Bulldogs are led by a defense allowing just 13.4 points per game, thanks in large part to a very good secondary. Quarterback Tyler Russell has been efficient, with 10 touchdowns to just one interception. LaDarius Perkins has 499 rushing yards and six touchdowns, and is averaging 6.1 yards per carry. Mississippi State has been a pretty solid all-around team through five games.

Mississippi State isn't downplaying how important this game is. Mullen made that clear to BulldogBlitz.com:

"If you want to go win the SEC Championship or your side of the division you have to win your home games," Mullen said. "We've stressed that all along. Our guys know how big a game this is. Their whole focus is to win this game at home and to be in the position that we want to be in you have to win you're home games.

"It's hard to tell where anybody is nationally right now. I think that plays out a couple more weeks down the road. It seems to jump around a bunch week to week. For us, our focus is how to win the SEC West and winning your home games is critical. This is our biggest test so far."

The Bulldogs are also well aware that a win over Tennessee not only helps them in the standings, it will help their perception as well. Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks admitted that he knew what a win over Tennessee would mean in an interview with ESPN.com this week:

"It will really open people's eyes," Banks told the site. "People are walking around saying Mississippi State hasn't played anybody. We actually have played five games. Tennessee is supposed to be a good team. It's supposed to have a good quarterback, so if we go out and handle business, we'll finally get the spotlight we deserve."

Tennessee seems a bit vulnerable, with a 0-2 record in conference games and coach Derek Dooley having to coach from the press box Saturday as he recovers from hip surgery. The Volunteers can blame a tough schedule for their record -- the losses came to Florida and Georgia. The Volunteers have won six in a row against Mississippi State, so losing on Saturday could trigger some panic at Tennessee.

It would be a pretty big deal for the Bulldogs, too.

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