Here’s a rundown of the 2011 Mississippi State Bulldogs:
The quarterback position in Starkville is as solid as it has been in years. Chris Relf returns for his senior campaign after leading the Bulldogs with 1,789 yards passing and 13 TDs. Relf also rushed for 713 yards and 5 TDs. Sophmore Tyler Russell, who saw action in nine games last season, will back up Relf, along with former St. Stanislaus Rockachaw Dylan Favre, both providing insurance for the Bulldogs under center.
Vick Ballard was one of the better rushers in the SEC last season, rushing for 968 yards and 19 TDs. The Pascagoula native, along with Relf, will be the cornerstones of a dynamic rushing offense that ranked 16th in the country a year ago. Sophomore LaDarius Perkins also is expected to get some looks, after rushing for 566 yards last fall.
Wide Receiver/Tight End-
Chris Relf wasn’t a huge passing threat last season, as he elected to keep the ball in his own hands most of the time. He is expected to throw the ball more this season and it won’t hurt to have his top three wide-outs returning from last season in Chad Bumphis, Arceto Clark and Chris Smith. In-coming freshman and Ocean Springs native Joe Morrow will be battling for playing time in his first fall in Starkville. Senior tight end Marcus Green will provide stability at tight end, as he returns from a knee injury.
The Bulldogs lost their two best offensive linemen in left tackle Derek Sherrod and center J.C. Brignone, both to graduation. They will return the rest of their starting offensive linemen from last season, but the big question will be can freshman left tackle Blaine Clausell be able to fill in for 1st round draft pick Derek Sherrod to protect Chris Relf? Or will the Bulldogs elect to start senior James Carmon?
MSU will return three of its four starters from last year’s defensive line that struggled to put pressure on opposing QB’s. Defensive tackles Josh Boyd and Fletcher Cox reportedly looked good in the spring, however and senior defensive end Sean Ferguson looks to provide a much needed pass rush.
The line-backer corps of the Bulldogs took a huge hit with the departures of Chris White and K.J. Wright. The two combined for 208 tackles last season and 9 sacks. The Bulldogs will field three new starters this season to a unit that provided most of the pressure on opposing quarter-backs last season. The loss of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz to Texas could be a big factor and it will be interesting to see how new defensive coordinator Chris Wilson does in his first year.
Both starting cornerbacks and both starting safeties will return from last year’s team. Senior safety Charles Mitchell will be a leader for the unit and can line up at either strong or free safety. The Bulldog’s secondary will look to improve on their pass coverage as they ranked 91st in the country last season in pass defense.
The Bulldogs will lose coast-native kicker Sean Brauchle after his struggling senior campaign. Senior Derek DePasquale will be the primary kicker this season, after going 10 of 12 last season and 3 of 4 on field goals from 40-49 yards. MSU will have a new starter at punter and will no longer have the services of kick returner Leon Berry, the lone Bulldog to return a kick for a touchdown last season.
• September 3rd- @ Memphis: Win- MSU should have no trouble taking down the Tigers.
• September 10th- @ Auburn: Win- A redemption game for the Bulldogs, as last year’s contest could have gone either way.
• September 15th- vs. LSU: Loss- The Bulldogs will give the Tigers a scare in Starkville, but just don’t have enough to take down the Bayou Bengals.
• September 24th- vs. Louisiana Tech: Win- Louisiana Tech will be no match for a superior SEC opponent. \
• October 1st- @ Georgia: Loss- The battle of the Bulldogs will end in defeat for MSU because of their inability to put pressure on Georgia QB Aaron Murray.
• October 8th- @ UAB: Win- Will probably be the Bulldogs best out of conference opponent, which isn’t saying much. The Bulldogs will roll at Legion Field.
• October 15th- vs. South Carolina: Loss- The Gamecocks high-powered offense will be too much for the Bulldogs.
• October 29th- @ Kentucky: Win- The Bulldogs will win a close one against a Kentucky team who has believe it or not been to a bowl game in each of the past five seasons.
• November 5th- vs. Tennessee Martin: Win- The Skyhawks don’t have much of a chance to come into Starkville and upset MSU.
• November 12th- vs. Alabama: Loss- One of the SEC West’s favorites will be too much for the Bulldogs, even in front of a sold out Davis Wade Stadium crowd.
• November 19th- @ Arkansas: Loss- The Bulldogs
will drop two straight games for the first time in the season to the Hogs, a team that could contest for the SEC West crown.
• November 26th- vs. Ole Miss: Win- You can never count anyone out of a rivalry game, but Mississippi State will likely be too much for the Rebels to handle for the third straight year.
Final Record: 7-5 ( 4th in the SEC West, Outback, Chick-Fil-A, or Music City Bowl)
Best Case Scenario- 10-2, Additional wins over Arkansas, Georgia, and South Carolina (3rd in the SEC West, Capital One or Cotton Bowl)
Worst Case Scenario- 4-8, Additional losses to Auburn, Kentucky and Ole Miss (5th in the SEC West)