For the first time Dan Mullen can remember, his football team had practice on the first day of school. And for the first time recently that reporters can remember, Mississippi State's coach seemed to be in a good mood, though he said yesterday, "I'm never in a good mood."
We assume he was joking.
While in recent days Mullen had expressed his displeasure with practice, he was downright upbeat about how the Bulldogs did this afternoon.
"I was pleased today with the first day of school," Mullen said. "We haven't really practiced much on the first day of school in the past with some of the distractions you have, having to go to class. We decided to try it this year and I was pretty pleased with the focus our guys had."
Mullen said the beginning wasn't ideal, but that once the players hit the practice field - for the first time in nearly two weeks after spending training camp at South Farm - things got better.
"In meetings, I think it started a little bit slow," Mullen said. "I had to jump on them in meetings real quick at the beginning, but once we hit the field I was real pleased. Now that we're in to limited football, a lot of teams are still in training camp around the country and we're not. Our time has been really scrunched down, and we have to really be focused in the short period of time we get our players every day. I thought our guys on the field had more focus today."
Through the rest of the week, Mullen said the plan is to keep practicing what they learned through the first couple weeks of training camp, making sure players have learned the offense and defense before they enter "game mode" next week.
The finale of the preseason preparation comes on Friday, when the team has its one big scrimmage of camp, this one taking place in Davis Wade stadium.
Mullen said the goal of the full contact scrimmage will be to get his team used to game situations before they head to Memphis on September 1st.
"We'll go to the stadium for it, since it's gonna be a game," Mullen said. "It's gonna be an evaluation of everybody. Getting coaches off the field completely, in the box with headsets. Getting players off the field. Substitution in from the sideline. To me, it's a scrimmage that has to get us prepared to go play a game."
In addition to preparing the team for game situations, Mullen said he also wants to evaluate players. Specifically, he wants to learn about the players at positions where competition for playing time is more serious.
"That's our big, last game situation scrimmage that we're gonna do, as well as, find out who can do things," Mullen said. "The scrimmage to me is not to see Vick Ballard carry the ball 32 times. I've seen that on the field already in an SEC game. I don't need that. It's to find out. We'll still experiment with some new things offensively, defensively to see if we like them in game situations, then experiment with guys in different spots and how they fit in."
Looking outside of his own practice, Mullen took a moment to address the various college football scandals around the country surfacing lately, such as the Yahoo! report on the University of Miami. While making sure his program stays clean, Mullen said it is sad that stories like those cover up the good parts of the game.
"I like us being out of scandals," Mullen said. "We're trying the best we can to run our program the right way. I think the biggest tragedy of it is, the scandals are taking lead over the great things happening in college football, because they don't sell. I'm gonna bet that for every scandal you find, there's 100 great college football stories out there of success. Unfortunately, though, people succeeding in this world might not be what we're looking for to sell. What sells is what scandal we can find next.
"I'm saying that if we attacked all the great things that happen with the gusto that we attack the scandals, then college football would have really a more accurate image of what the truth behind it is."