2011 Mississippi State Preview
Mississippi State QB Chris Relf
Mississippi State QB Chris Relf
Posted May 12, 2011

Mississippi State came up with a breakthrough season, winning nine games and closing with a blowout Gator Bowl victory over Michigan. Now where does the program go in the brutally tough SEC West? Have QB Chris Relf and the boys hit their ceiling? Check out the 2011 CFN MSU Preview, and also take a look at the Week One opponent, Memphis.

Mississippi State Bulldogs

Preview 2011

- 2011 Mississippi State Preview | 2011 Mississippi State Offense
- 2011 Mississippi State Defense | 2011 Mississippi State Depth Chart
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- 2011 Week 1 Opponent  2011 Memphis Preview
- Week One- Memphis vs. Miss State Lookahead 

By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Dan Mullen
3rd year: 14-11
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 21, Def. 19, ST 1
Lettermen Lost: 24
Ten Best Mississippi State Players
1. QB Chris Relf, Sr.
2. RB Vick Ballard, Sr.
3. OT Addison Lawrence, Sr.
4. WR Chad Bumphis, Jr.
5. QB Tyler Russell, Soph.
6. DT Fletcher Cox, Jr.
7. DT Josh Boyd, Jr.
8. SS Charles Mitchell, Sr.
9. CB Johnthan Banks, Jr.
10. CB Corey Broomfield, Jr.
2011 Schedule

Sep. 3 at Memphis
Sep. 10 at Auburn
Sep. 15 LSU
Sep. 24 Louisiana Tech
Oct. 1 at Georgia
Oct. 8 at UAB
Oct. 15 South Carolina
Oct. 29 at Kentucky
Nov. 5 UT Martin
Nov. 12 Alabama
Nov. 19 at Arkansas
Nov. 26 Ole Miss

So what's the end game for Mississippi State in the current era of SEC dominance?

There's no denying that MSU can be more than just competitive, and there's no question that head coach Dan Mullen has been successful in his first few years and is putting together something strong, but he's building a house in a hurricane. The SEC West isn't going to start stinking any time soon.

1998 is a long, long time ago. That's the last time Mississippi State played in the SEC title game, but things have changed. 14 years ago, LSU was awful, Alabama was mediocre, Auburn was miserable, Ole Miss was just okay, and Arkansas was slightly above average. In other words, all the conditions were perfect for the Bulldogs to fight their way through to Atlanta. Unfortunately, as positive as things are for the program now, 2010 might have been as good as it's going to get when it comes to having any semblance of success in the West.

Alabama, Auburn, and LSU have had their respective turns in the national championship fun over the last five years, and only NCAA sanctions – breath holding on that not necessary – might be the only thing that could knock any one of the three into mediocrity. Arkansas is a burgeoning monster under Bobby Petrino, and Ole Miss isn't going to be awful under Houston Nutt. In other words, considering MSU doesn't recruit like the big boys in the conference, it's going to be difficult to make any sort of a dent in the hard ceiling.

By any standard, and especially considering the conference the team plays in, going 9-4 with a 52-14 Gator Bowl destruction of Michigan was great. MSU beat its arch-rival, Ole Miss, and it played the eventual national champs – Auburn – as tough as anyone. But beating Florida at Florida in 2010 didn't carry half as much weight as if it had happened in 2009; the win over Georgia wasn't that big a deal; and in the end, there were only two victories – Florida and Michigan – over teams that finished with a winning record. How many MSU wins came over teams that finished in the final AP top 25? Zip, and the Gators were the only ones on the board finishing 32nd.

MSU can't care about how the final record is the final record, as long as it's positive. However, it's going to be hard to make any major step forward with some concerns on both sides of the ball and with the league looking stronger overall.

The running game will be terrific with Vick Ballard and QB Chris Relf leading a fantastic backfield, and the secondary is loaded with good veterans. The defensive tackles are terrific, the receiving corps gets everyone back, and the special teams are going to be a plus. However, it'll be asking a lot to get more than nine wins with an offensive line that has a major problem at left tackle. The linebacking corps has to replace the two guys who did everything for the defense – K.J. Wright and Chris White – along with third starter, Emmanuel Gatling. The pass rush was mediocre last year, and now it'll have to get by without Pernell McPhee. The issues aren't deathblows, but MSU has to be nearly perfect to have any shot of winning the West, and it won't be.

There's no reason to temper the enthusiasm, though. Mullen's spread attack is an equalizer against better teams, and the defense should be tough enough against the run to screw up someone's dream season; the pieces are there to come up with a repeat of 2010. MSU can have another great season, and it probably will, but is there enough in the bag to rise up and win the West?

The Gator Bowl victory and a top 15 finish really weren't all that bad.

What to watch for on offense: The left tackle situation. Green Bay, enjoy Derek Sherrod. MSU is loaded at running back, with Vick Ballard leading a dangerous group, and the quarterback combination of Chris Relf and Tyler Russell has the potential to be as good as any in the SEC. The receiving corps gets everyone back, there will be more work for the tight ends, and the line is going to be good and sound at four spots, but … the left tackle job will be the concern of the offseason. James Carmon is a massive 6-7, 330-pound former defensive lineman who made the move over to the other side during Gator Bowl drills. He has the size and he has just enough athleticism to get by at tackle, but he's trying to figure out what he's doing and needs every second of every practice to start to get all the subtle nuances. 6-7, 295-pound redshirt freshman Blaine Clausell has potential, but he has to get bulkier and didn't do enough this offseason to push Carmon aside in the position battle.

What to watch for on defense: The linebacking situation. Chris White led the team with 110 tackles with six sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. K.J. Wright finished second on the team with 98 tackles with three sacks, eight tackles for loss, and a team-leading nine broken up passes. Emmanuel Gatling chipped in with 45 tackles. All three are gone, and while the coaches have done a good job of recruiting, it mostly has to make do with holdovers from the previous coaching staff. The tackles and stats will be there for new starting trio, and Chris Hughes looks like a keeper at one outside spot, but unless the big plays start happening in the backfield early on, the defense is going to take a big step back. That's because …

The team will be far better if … There's a steady pass rush. Pernell McPhee might have been the teams' best defensive lineman when it came to getting into the backfield, and he came up with a whopping 12 quarterback hurries to go along with his two sacks and ten tackles for loss, but it's not like he was truly special. Now, the defensive tackle tandem of Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd have to start getting into the backfield more, and the ends, Sean Ferguson and Trevor Stigers, must hit quarterbacks on a regular basis. The mediocre pass rush last year crushed the secondary, but with experience returning in the defensive backfield, it shouldn't take too many big hits to help out the struggling pass defense.

The schedule: The Bulldogs don't have it easy, but they get plenty of big SEC matchups at home and the non-conference schedule is light and breezy enough to expect a sure-thing four wins as a base. When the toughest non-conference game is a tossup between Louisiana Tech and UAB, things aren't all that bad. MSU gets a bad break missing Vanderbilt from the East, but having to go to Georgia and needing to face South Carolina, but not playing Florida is never a bad thing. If Auburn really is going to take a step back, then getting the Tigers on the road and LSU and Alabama at home isn't a bad exchange. While four of the first six games are on the road, three of the final four are at home including a nice week off against UT Martin before facing the Tide. After going away to Arkansas, finishing up at home against Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl should help the bowl position.

Best offensive player: Senior QB Chris Relf. When was the last time the SEC West saw a huge, mobile quarterback with a live arm and rare skills? No, Relf isn't going to be Cam Newton, but he turned into a strong all-around playmaker and leader as last year went on, and he could be poised for a national breakout year if he can continue to hold off hotshot sophomore Tyler Russell. As good as Relf is, Russell might turn out to be even better once he starts to become a better decision maker.

Best defensive player: Junior DT Fletcher Cox and/or Junior DT Josh Boyd. The two are almost the same size, and while they're not huge widebodies for the interior, they get the job done. Cox is a bit quicker at getting into the backfield and is a bit more disruptive, while Boyd can also drop a ballcarrier behind the line without a problem. It's a stretch to call these two anchors, but they're two very good, very productive rocks to work around.

Key player to a successful season: Besides the new starter at left tackle, senior LB Brandon Wilson. He has the unenviable task of taking over for Chris White in the middle, and while he's not going to be flashy and he's not going to make big plays behind the line, he should get in on a ton of tackles and should be a running back stuffing roadblock for a defense that finished 15th against the run. Considering the turnover in the linebacking corps, Wilson has got to be consistently good.

The season will be a success if … MSU wins nine games again. There can't be any hiccups in the games the Bulldogs will be favored in. At Memphis, Louisiana Tech, at UAB, at Kentucky (which might be even), UT Martin, and Ole Miss have to be wins. A home upset over South Carolina wouldn't be a shocker, and rising up to beat rebuilding Auburn on the road in early September isn't that crazy. It'll take a few stunners and probably a bowl win to get to nine again, but this team with this coaching staff can do it.

Key game: Sept. 10 at Auburn. The defending national champions aren't anywhere near as good without Cam Newton, Nick Fairley, and most of the defense, but they're still tremendously talented. If MSU can pull off the early road win in the SEC opener, the confidence should be sky-high for the nationally televised showdown against LSU just five days later. The Auburn game will be a tone-setter one way or another, and if MSU wins, with LSU and Alabama coming to Starkville, there will be many cowbell clangers who'll start to dream big.

2010 Fun Stats:
- 4th Down Conversions: Mississippi State 79% (15-of-19) – Opponents 38% (9-of-24)
- Fumbles: Opponents 18 (lost 15) – Mississippi State 17 (lost 8)
- Rushing Yards Per Game: Mississippi State 214.8 – Opponents 119.1

- 2011 Mississippi State Preview | 2011 Mississippi State Offense
- 2011 Mississippi State Defense | 2011 Mississippi State Depth Chart