College football: Renovations roll on at Mississippi State

STARKVILLE, Miss. — Mississippi State is spending about $100 million to upgrade its football facilities.

And the results are starting to show.

When Athletic Director Scott Stricklin needs a tangible reminder of how fast his program is growing, he takes a short walk to the middle of campus.

A few blocks from his office, things are a mess. There are cranes, bulldozers and construction workers everywhere — usually humming with activity as work continues on a $75 million renovation to Davis Wade Stadium.

“It’s exciting to see the concrete rise up on that north end of the stadium,” Stricklin said. “It’s not just going to change the football stadium, but it’s really going to change the campus in a positive way. It’s great to see it become a reality.”

Mississippi State’s improving football facilities are sorely needed in the ongoing spending spree in the Southeastern Conference. The Bulldogs have pushed their nose right into the middle of the SEC pack in football after years languishing near the bottom of the league and now are trying to build facilities to match.

The new renovations will add more than 6,000 seats to the existing stadium, pushing capacity to 61,337. It also includes plans for a second high-definition video board, premium seating, restrooms and concession stands.

Mississippi State also recently opened the Leo Seal Jr. Football Complex, a $25 million structure that is 80,000 square feet and includes the coaches’ offices, weight room, cafeteria, film rooms and other training facilities.

Mississippi State has had three straight winning seasons under coach Dan Mullen, who is entering his fifth year.

“I think what we have created here is a level of stability and high expectations,” Mullen said during spring practice. “I believe to win a championship you have to have a solid foundation. It is not just going to come from nowhere. ... When you win consistently, the next step for us is to compete for a championship consistently. When you start to do that, you find that you win a championship.”

It’s a level of sustained success rarely seen in Starkville, leading to packed stadiums and a steady stream of donor money that has helped make the current renovations possible.

Stricklin said the stadium’s renovation will take two years — though a functional version that includes some new concession stands and restrooms will be ready in September.

Now Mississippi State is trying to improve into a championship contender in the SEC, which isn’t easy considering the Western Division is packed with power programs like Alabama and LSU.

“I think we’re on really solid footing,” Stricklin said.

Southern

MEDIA DAY PICKS ANNOUNCED: Quarterback Dray Joseph and defensive back Virgil Williams will join coach Dawson Odums as Southern’s representatives at Southwestern Athletic Conference media day Monday in Birmingham, Ala.

Two players and the head coach will represent each school at the Birmingham Marriott. SWAC.org will carry video and audio from the event.

Kentucky

WILDCATS DISMISS BROTHERS: Kentucky dismissed sophomore linebacker Kadeem “Pancho” Thomas and younger brother Khalid, a freshman running back, for a violation of team rules.

Wildcats athletic department spokesman Tony Neely confirmed the players’ dismissals Thursday but did not specify what rules were broken.

The elder Thomas had 12 tackles in 10 games last season backing up senior middle linebacker Avery Williamson while participating on special teams. Khalid Thomas was signed by Kentucky after leading Godby High School of Tallahassee, Fla., to the state’s AAAAA championship last season.

Military Bowl

AAC SIGNS UP: The American Athletic Conference and Military Bowl agreed to a six-year deal that starts in 2014 and will match the league against the ACC.

A person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press that the ACC is expected to be the other league with a tie-in. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal was still being completed.

This season, the bowl is moving from RFK Stadium in Washington to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md., where it’s expected to make a permanent home. Navy is slated to join the American, formerly known as the Big East, in 2015.

The American is still working on the rest of its bowl lineup. The league is trying to keep affiliations with the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn., BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., and the Beef’O’Brady’s Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Florida State

‘SEC’ RING GAFFE FOR SEMINOLES: All those Florida State fans who wished the Seminoles played in the Southeastern Conference will love this championship ring.

Former Florida State offensive lineman Menelik Watson posted a picture on Twitter of the championship ring he earned by being a part of last season’s ACC title winners.

Problem is ... it has “SEC champions” engraved on the side.

“Apparently I’m the only player in #Fsu history to win an SEC Championship! #Legendary,” Watson tweeted Wednesday.

A Florida State spokesman said no other former players have reported a similar mistake with their rings, and current players have yet to receive their rings.