It's been a building process since Dan Mullen became the head football coach at Mississippi State.
Quarterback Tyler Russell has helped in that construction.
Russell wasn't sure if he wanted to be a part of the process at first. He decommitted for a short time and took another visit, but ultimately, he saw what Mullen accomplished at Florida and felt the same thing could happen in Starkville.
It was just a matter of Russell getting to know Mullen and the signal caller bought into the plan he had for the Bulldogs.
"He called me the night I was coaching in the national title game (at Florida) and said, 'Coach, I want to be your quarterback and want to be your leader.'" Mullen said during Wednesday's Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference. "What he understood at that point was that we were going to build something special where players from the state of Mississippi could stay at home and represent their state university and play a championship level football game."
That time is now as Mississippi State plays Alabama Saturday in a battle of undefeated teams in the Southeastern Conference. Kickoff is set for 7:40 p.m. on ESPN.
The Bulldogs are 7-0 and are in the thick of the SEC Western Division race with a 3-0 mark. That's what Mullen and Russell envisioned for the program four years ago.
"(Russell) saw we were going to build that here and that was going to be our focus," Mullen said. "He trusted in what we were going to do and what we were going to build. He not only wanted to be a part of it, but he wanted to be a leader and a major part of it. He's done a fabulous job throughout his career of being that leader and continuing to develop. He has been a big part of us playing in this type of a game."
As far as Russell's production this season, the numbers speak for itself.
He has completed 122-of-203 pass attempts for 1,573 yards with 15 touchdowns and only one interception for the Bulldogs.
As one of only three quarterbacks in the nation with at least 15 touchdowns and less than two interceptions, Russell was added to the Maxwell Award Watch List on Wednesday. Russell becomes the first MSU signal caller chosen to the watch list in the 76 year history of the award, which is handed out to the most outstanding collegiate quarterback.
Mullen said Russell has done a good job with his decision-making this season.
"He understands the different looks he's going to see," Mullen said. "When you see something you weren't expecting and you go from your first read, to second read, then all of a sudden the second read is not there and a blitz is coming, you go to a third guy or check down to get the ball out of your hands.
"The timing of how fast he's making those decisions is where he has improved the most. His experience is where he really understands the offense. The times he did play (last year), he understood that he had better know what's going on or he's going to get hit pretty hard on the football field. You've got to know where to go with the ball, when to go with it and get it out of your hands as fast as possible in this league."
Along with Russell being added to the Maxwell list, Bulldog defensive back and former East Webster High School player Johnthan Banks was picked one of 20 national quarterfinalists for the Lott IMPACT Trophy on Tuesday. He is the first MSU player to be included as quarterfinalist in the nine-year history of the award.
As far as preparation for the Crimson Tide, Mullen has noticed a little extra desire in the Bulldogs this week.
"You see the guys around a little bit more with their intensity in their preparation really picking up this week and they are watching a little extra film," Mullen said. "Our guys understand this is a big game."