Mississippi State Bulldogs
Head Coach: Dan Mullen
2011 Record: 7-6 overall, 2-6 SEC West
2011 Bowl Result: Beat Wake Forest 23-17 in Music City Bowl
Odds to Win SEC West Division: 16/1
Odds to Win SEC Championship Game: 35/1
Odds to Win 2013 BCS Championship: 200/1
Over Under Regular Season wins: Under 7 1/2 -155 / Over +125
All Odds courtesy of Bovada
Last season, Mississippi St, coached by Dan Mullen, finished 7-6. The Bulldogs beat the teams they were supposed to, and lost to the teams that were better than them. They had narrow losses to Auburn, LSU, Georgia and South Carolina, and narrow wins over Lousiana Tech and Kentucky. Mississippi St ended the season with a 23-17 win over Wake Forest in the Music City Bowl.
The problem is Mississippi St plays in the toughest division in football. So even when things go really well like in 2010 when the Bulldogs went 9-4 and beat Michigan 52-14 in the Gator Bowl, they still had no shot of winning the SEC West title. All four losses that year came to LSU, Arkansas, Auburn, and Alabama. In fact, Mississippi St is 1-15 against those teams in the last 4 seasons. If the Bulldogs were in say the Big East, they would be the favorites, instead of the fifth choice in a 7 team division. It is similar to the Blue Jays being in the same division as the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays.
Last season, Mississippi St averaged 375 yards per game (175.3 rushing yards) and 25.3 points per game. The Bulldogs were 94th nationally in passing averaging 181.8 yards per game. The offensive coordinator is Vic Koenning.
MSU quarterback Chris Relf graduated. He had almost 1,600 combined passing and rushing yards, along with 12 touchdowns and an interception. Junior Tyler Russell made appearances in 8 games last year, and will be the full time starter this year. He isn’t a runner like Relf, but is a better pure passer. Russell completed 53.5% of his 129 pass attempts for 1,034 yards with 8 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. He was sacked 10 times and had one rushing touchdown. Third string quarterback Dylan Favre, nephew of Brett, left the program in December. So redshirt freshmen Dak Prescott will be the back-up. He is a dual threat quarterback who is dangerous with both his arms and legs. He could take a few snaps in order to keep defenses off balance.
The Bulldogs must replace leading rusher Vick Ballard who had 193 carries, 1,189 yards, and 10 touchdowns, along with 20 catches, 187 yards, and a touchdown. Junior LaDarius Perkins will be the feature back. He had 87 carries, 422 yards, and 2 touchdowns, along with 13 catches, 59 yards, and 2 touchdowns. Nick Griffin had 16 carries, 108 yards and a touchdown. He will get more carries this year as the primary back-up. A pair of redshirt freshmen, Josh Robinson and Derrick Milton will also get a lot of carries. The running game must make up of the 123 carries Relf had last year, as Russell will not run unless he has to. Prescott could get some of those carries as well. Fullback Sylvester Hemphill won’t get any carries but is a bruising blocking back.
Most of the top receivers return for the Bulldogs. Arceto Clark had 30 catches, 442 yards, and 4 touchdowns. Chad Bumphis had 25 catches, 339 yards, and 3 touchdowns. Chris Smith had 35 catches, 330 yards, and 2 touchdowns. Tight end Malcolm Johnson had 11 catches, 206 yards, and 3 touchdowns. Joe Morrow, Ricco Sanders, Brandon Heavens, and Brandon Hill will also get targets. Redshirt freshman Morrow could be a star in the making.
Guard Gabe Jackson is the only player on the line who has played a full year or more. Three other players have a combined 17 games experience. The line wasn’t that great last year, and could struggle again this season.
It has to be a little disheartening for MSU knowing they had the 27th best pass defense in the country giving up 197 yards a game, and still were the second worst team against the pass in the SEC, ahead of only Auburn. Overall, Mississippi St gave up 351 yards per game and 19.7 points per game under co-coordinators Geoff Collins and Chris Wilson.
Though the line must replace tackle Fletcher Cox, who was drafted in the first round by the Eagles in the NFL draft, it shouldn’t be a problem. Not only do the Bulldogs have several defensive linemen returning, but Mullen also recruited 8 new players for the line. Obviously some of those will redshirt, but depth shouldn’t be an issue. Senior tackle Josh Boyd will anchor the line. He had 51 tackles, including 8 for loss, and 4.5 sacks. Sophomore tackle Curtis Virges will replace Cox. Virges had 10 tackles and 2 sacks last year. JUCO transfer Denico Autry and Kaleb Eulls will start at the ends. Eulls made 30 tackles, with 3 for loss last year. Preston Smith and Shane McCardell will also see playing time on the line.
Linebacker Cameron Lawrence led the team in tackles last year with 123, and added 2 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 6 tackles for loss. Bernardrick McKinney and Ferlando Bohanna will rotate in the middle linebacker position. Junior Deontae Skinner made 69 tackles last year, including 9 for loss. Chris Hughes and Matthew Wells will also be in the rotation for linebacker.
Senior cornerback Johnathan Banks made 71 tackles with 3 sacks, made 5 picks and broke up 9 passes. He would have been a high NFL draft pick but decided to come back to Starkville for his senior year. The other corner will be senior Corey Broomfield, who made 59 tackles, five tackles for loss, and 5 broken up passes. Teams will most likely give Banks the Darelle Revis treatment and not throw near him, so Broomfield could get tested a lot. Junior free safety Nickoe Whitley is coming off a torn Achilles’ tendon, but he made 34 tackles and 4 interceptions last year. Dee Arrington will start at the other safety. He made 23 tackles last year and had a pick six in the Georgia game. Darius Slay and Jay Hughes will also be part of the rotation in the secondary.
Junior kicker Brian Egan takes over for Derek DePasquale. Egan was the kickoff specialist last year and had 6 touchbacks. he missed his only field goal attempt of the season, a 29 yarder against Alabama.
Junior punter Baker Swedenberg averaged 41.8 yards per punt, with 21 fair catches and 19 inside the 20. He did have 8 touchbacks though. However, his upside outweighed those few mistakes.
Banks averaged 10.4 yards per punt return with a touchdown. LaDarius Perkins looks to boost a struggling kick return game that only averaged 18.5 yards per return. He averaged 22.7 yards per return last year in his few chances last year.
Mississippi St opens with home games against Jackson St and Auburn. The bulldogs then travel to Troy and host South Alabama who just moved from FCS to FBS football. The Bulldogs then travel to Kentucky, before hosting Tennessee and Middle Tennessee. Then comes a trip to Alabama, before MSU hosts conference newcomer Texas A&M. The Bulldogs then travel to Baton Rouge to take on LSU, and hosts Arkansas. MSU ends the season with the Egg Bowl against rival Ole Miss in Oxford.
Look for Mississippi St to improve in the passing game with Russell leading the offense. The defense should still be very good. The schedule is manageable, but trips to Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge in the space of 3 weeks won’t be fun. I think 8 wins is realistic for this team, as they avoid Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida from the East.
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