The Mississippi State Bulldogs are entering their fourth season under head coach Dan Mullen. He has a 21-17 record as head coach of the Bulldogs and has lead them to victories in the Gator and Music City bowls in the last two seasons. Perhaps most importantly for Bulldog fans, the former Florida Offensive Coordinator has lead the Bulldogs to three consecutive Egg Bowl victories over rival Ole Miss.
Mullen has been successful against Ole Miss, but has yet to beat another SEC West team in his tenure at Mississippi State. He will look to change that this season, with a talented pool of players returning. The Bulldogs did lose defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who marked the second consecutive first round pick for the Bulldogs in the NFL draft, but should be able to reload and have another solid season.
Mississippi State has one of the weaker out of conference strength of schedules in the country, with games vs. Jackson State, at Troy, vs. South Alabama, and vs. Middle Tennessee State. If the Bulldogs can take care of business with a weak out of conference schedule, they will only need two SEC wins to become bowl eligible.
Quaterbacks- Tyler Russell will finally get the role as starting quarterback for the Bulldogs after playing quarterback shuffle with Chris Relf for the past two seasons. Mullen believes it is finally his time to shine. Russell is a fourth-year junior that went to high school in Meridian where he was named the Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year. Behind Russell on the depth charts will be duel-threat quarterback Dak Prescott. Prescott is a native of Haughton, Louisiana and turned down an offer to play for LSU. It is expected that Bulldog coaches will draw up some packages for the redshirt-freshman quarterback and he should see some snaps this season, especially with the potential for some blowouts in out of conference matchups.
Running Backs- The Bulldogs will lose former 1,000 yard rusher Vick Ballard to graduation, but should have plenty of options to help carry the load. The offense will likely be more pass-heavy this season, with the loss of Chris Relf and Vick Ballard who combined for nearly 1,500 yards rushing last season. Still, the Bulldogs should have two solid options at running back with junior LaDarius Perkins and sophomore Nick Griffin. Perkins rushed for 422 yards and 2 TDs last year in a complimentary role to Vick Ballard. Perkins is expected to take the role as the lead back after rushing for 5.3 yards per carry last season. Griffin will split the load with Perkins, as he offers more in the power running game as opposed to Perkins speedy play. Griffin carried the ball 16 times last season for 108 yards.
Wide Receivers- The Bulldogs passing game only averaged 181.9 yards per game last season, but it wasn’t due to the lack of talent at the wide out position. The playbook this year will be more geared to the passing game to suit gunslinger Tyler Russell and the talented receiving corps should finally be put on display. Chris Smith lead the Bulldogs in receptions last year with 35 and had 330 yards with 2 TDs as a junior. Arceto Clark, Chad Bumphis, and Brandon Heavens round out the senior recivers who will be returning. Clark had 30 receptions for 442 yards and lead the Bulldogs with 4 TDs. Bumphis, a former 4-star recruit, caught 25 passes for 339 yards and 3 TDs. Redshirt freshman and Ocean Springs native Joe Morrow expects to play a bigger part in the offense this season for the Bulldogs. Morrow (6’4”, 205 lbs.) could develop into a very good downfield threat.
Offensive Lineman- Mississippi State returns two starters from an offensive line that was below average last season. Junior guard Gabe Jackson and sophomore center Dillon Day return for the Bulldogs and will be the most experienced lineman on a very young unit. Junior college transfer Charles Siddoway is expected to start at right tackle, while sophomore Blaine Claussell will likely line up opposite him at left tackle. Senior right guard Tobias Smith wraps up the lineup in the trenches for the Bulldogs. Expect the front five for the Bulldogs to grow as the season progresses, but depth may be a concern for this unit.
Defensive Lineman- Fletcher Cox garnered All-SEC honors last season and elected to forgo his remaining eligibility to enter the NFL Draft. That leaves a big hole to fill for the Bulldogs as Cox lead the team with five sacks from the interior of the defensive line last season. Sophomore defensive end Kaleb Eulls and senior defensive tackle Josh Boyd return on the line for the Bulldogs. P.J. Jones will likely fill the other defensive tackle position while former junior college All-American Denico Autry will make his transition from junior college defensive end to the same role in the SEC.
Linebackers- The Bulldogs return two of their three starting linebackers from last years team. Senior Cam Lawrence will be the leader of the group as he returns for his final season at weak-side linebacker for the Bulldogs. Strong-side linebacker Deontae Skinner also returns as a starter for his junior season. Ferlando Bohanna is expected to be the newcomer in the unit at the middle linebacker position. Junior Chris Hughes is also expected to split time at both of the outside linebacker positions, primarily in blitz packages. The line backing corps as a whole should be improved from last season’s.
Defensive Backs- Johnthan Banks decided to stay in Starkville one more year as opposed to entering the NFL draft, a decision that should create one of the best cornerback tandems in the SEC. Banks had five interceptions last season and is just four shy of the career interception mark for the Bulldogs which currently stands at 16. Corey Broomfield will be playing opposite of Banks as he returns as a starter for his senior season. Nickoe Whitley will return to play free safety while senior Louis Watson will likely be the starter at strong safety. The defensive backfield for the Bulldogs should be very strong, mostly due to the talent starting and coming off the bench at cornerback.
Special Teams- Chad Bumphis and Johnthan Banks both returned a punt back for a touchdown last season and the Bulldogs averaged 11.1 yards per punt return. The kickoff returns weren’t quite as good, as the unit ranked 116th in the country in that department. Both the punter and placekicker will be first year starters as a pair of juniors Baker Swedenburg and Brian Egan will start at those positions respectively.
2012 Schedule and Predictions:
• September 1st vs. Jackson State- Win. The Bulldogs shouldn’t have any trouble in their season opener.
• September 8th vs. Auburn- Loss. Auburn returns 16 starters from a team that went 8-5 last season. If the Tigers can find consistent play at QB this early in the season, the Bulldogs should be considered underdogs.
• September 15th @ Troy- Win. This is a huge home game for the Trojan football program, but it isn’t very likely that we will see an upset.
• September 22nd vs. South Alabama- Win. While the Jaguars have been successful, they aren’t even officially an FBS team yet. The win will count towards bowl eligibility for the Bulldogs however, the first season that has been the case for a team facing South Alabama as the Jaguars continue the process of entering the Sun Belt Conference.
• October 6th @ Kentucky- Win. This should be a win for the Bulldogs as they visit the Bluegrass state.
• October 13th vs. Tennessee- Loss. This has the makings of a very interesting matchup between the talented Bulldog cornerbacks and the talented QB, WR pair in Tyler Bray and Da’Rick Rogers. I think the Volunteers will edge out the Bulldogs in Starkville.
• October 20th vs. Middle Tennessee- Win. Chalk up another easy out of conference win for the Bulldogs.
• October 27th @ Alabama- Loss. The Bulldogs shouldn’t pose much of a threat to the defending national champions in Tuscaloosa.
• November 3rd vs. Texas A&M- Loss. This could be an interesting game against the SEC newcomer. If the Aggies can fill the void left by QB Ryan Tannehill from last season, they should win a close one.
• November 10th @ LSU- Loss. The Tigers will be favorites to win the SEC West again and won’t lose to the Bulldogs at home.
• November 17th vs. Arkansas- Loss. Another tough SEC matchup for the Bulldogs.
• November 24th @ Ole Miss- Win. As much as it pains me to make this pick two years in a row, I have to. Rivalry games go either way but this could be a tough one for the Rebels.
• Final Prediction- 6-6, 6th in SEC West, Compass Bowl
• Best Case Scenario- 9-3 (Additional wins vs. Auburn, Tennessee, Texas A&M), 4th in SEC West, Liberty Bowl.
• Worst Case Scenario- 4-8 (Additional Losses vs. Kentucky, Ole Miss), 7th in SEC West, No Bowl.