SDS kicks off a series looking in-depth at teams and their biggest subplots heading into 2013. Up next: Mississippi State.
- Mississippi State
- Ole Miss
- South Carolina
- Texas A&M
1. A pivotal year
Are you buying or selling what MSU’s program is offering? I’m on the fence, where I don’t often find myself. I’m usually either hot or cold, but I’m lukewarm. Dan Mullen has done some wonderful things at MSU, especially taking over the mess he inherited. He’s guided the Bulldogs to a 29-22 overall record and three straight bowl games. But whispers are starting to emerge of his record against ranked teams. He’s 2-16 against top 25 opponents and 0-8 against top 10 opponents, and the Bulldogs play at least five ranked teams in ‘13. Last year’s team started 7-0 and reached as high as No. 13 in the polls but finished just 1-4. I know you don’t want to hear it, but with Ole Miss gaining some real momentum, this could be a pivotal and defining year for Mullen and MSU. Now, I’m not saying he’s on the hot seat or even close, but things could get rather interesting, especially if State misses on a bowl game.
2. Russell & Perkins
MSU is counting on these two senior leaders. Tyler Russell had a good year last year, throwing for nearly 2,900 yards and 24 touchdowns, but he loses his three leading receivers, and quite frankly, the offense was borderline boring to watch down the stretch. LaDarius Perkins has to figure into the offense more, and I thought MSU went away from him. He’s one of the top backs in the league and one who must have a major impact this season, and considering this is a veteran O-line overall, it bodes well for a better running game. Each player and his impact will be are big storylines to watch unfold.
3. Defensive flip
The Bulldogs’ defense was strongest in the secondary last year with Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay, but with three defensive backs gone, the strength jumps to the defensive line. I may not be real bullish on the overall outlook this season, but the defensive line has a chance to be top five or better. Denico Autry and Kaleb Eulls should have big seasons, and up-and-comers Preston Smith, Ryan Brown, Nick James, PJ Jones and Quay Evans are potential breakout stars. Go ahead and throw in Chris Jones’ star-studded athleticism, and we’re talking about a much-improved position corps. The run defense finished 11th in the SEC, and with improved play from underrated linebackers Benardrick McKinney and Deontae Skinner and bigger bodies along the defensive line, this could be the most improved aspect of the team.
4. Battle for Mississippi
The Egg Bowl is a fantastic rivalry, and one of my favorites in all of college football. Mullen dominated this game for three years, but Ole Miss stole it back last year. The battle for Mississippi is getting very interesting, and the struggle for supremacy between Mullen and Hugh Freeze is one of the biggest storylines in the SEC for 2013.
SDS takeaway: MSU’s defense should be better than most think, thanks to a veteran and physical defensive line, but the secondary still concerns me. The offense goes as Tyler Russell goes, but LaDarius Perkins has to be much more involved in controlling the ground game. The Bulldogs will be favored in only four or five games in a schedule that features a nasty five-game stretch to close out the regular season. Swing games against teams like Auburn, Arkansas and Ole Miss will be crucial in pushing toward another bowl berth.
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