Miss State Preview – Life In The SEC West
Mississippi State DT Josh Boyd
Mississippi State DT Josh Boyd
Posted Jun 27, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Mississippi State Bulldogs

Mississippi State Bulldogs

Preview 2012

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Dan Mullen
4th year: 21-17
Returning Lettermen
O 28, D 23, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 17
Ten Best Miss State Players
1. CB Johnthan Banks, Sr.
2. LB Cameron Lawrence, Sr.
3. DT Josh Boyd, Sr.
4. LB Deontae Skinner, Jr.
5. DE Denico Autry, Jr.
6. FS Nickoe Whitley, Jr.
7. SS Dee Arrington, Soph.
8. QB Tyler Russell, Jr.
9. CB Corey Broomfield, Sr.
10. OG Gabe Jackson, Jr.
2012 Schedule
Sep. 1 Jackson State
Sep. 8 Auburn
Sep. 15 at Troy
Sep. 22 South Alabama
Oct. 6 at Kentucky
Oct. 13 Tennessee
Oct. 20 Middle Tenn.
Oct. 27 at Alabama
Nov. 3 Texas A&M
Nov. 10 at LSU
Nov. 17 Arkansas
Nov. 24 at Ole Miss
Yes, it stinks to be in the SEC West right now. It stinks to be in a division that's full of national championship-level programs – and Ole Miss – and it stinks to be getting another very, very good team in Texas A&M to deal with.

It stinks that MSU head coach Dan Mullen can come up with several nice recruiting classes and can upgrade the overall talent and consistency and still not come close to winning a division title, much less a conference one. It stinks that the Bulldogs finished 27th in the nation in pass defense, but was ahead of only Auburn among SEC pass defenses. It stinks that the D gave up around 350 yards and 20 points per game and the team still finished 6-6 in the regular season. It stinks that most teams in college football would've gone 0-6 against Auburn, Georgia and Arkansas on the road, and LSU, South Carolina and Alabama at home.

It stinks that Mississippi State would be the favorite to win the Big East and would've been deep in the hunt for a conference title in any other BCS conference, but it's in the SEC and it's in the SEC West and it's not moving any time soon.

For good and bad, Mullen has been able to play it relatively straight and has had some decent success. The running game has been solid over the years and the defense has been tight as a drum at times, but that hard work and good coaching isn't enough. MSU wouldn't necessarily have more luck going the gimmick route – like Texas Tech did in an attempt to level the playing field with the Big 12 big boys – but it needs to do everything it's been doing, only better.

The Bulldogs more than held their own against LSU last season and gave Alabama a dogfight, but still, they managed to score a mere 13 points against the two juggernauts and couldn't find any offensive punch when needed against Georgia, South Carolina and Arkansas. The 2012 team's best win came over Louisiana Tech, and it took overtime to do it, and while the 52-14 blasting of Michigan in the 2011 Gator Bowl is still fresh despite coming two seasons ago, the team needs some more splash.

Over the last four years, MSU has gone 1-15 against Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn and LSU, with the lone bright spot a 31-28 win over a mediocre Hog team in 2008. The Bulldogs are able to beat the teams they're supposed to, and they're not getting embarrassed on a regular basis in their losses, but now it's time for some more oomph.

Fortunately, the defense should continue to do its job against all the mediocre SEC offenses. The linebacking corps is maturing and improving, and the front four – despite the loss of tackle Fletcher Cox a year early to the NFL - should be as active as any in the league. The key will be a secondary that's loaded with veteran talent, especially at corner with Johnthan Banks considered a likely first round draft pick next season. As long as the defense can keep games within reach, MSU has a shot.

Now the offense has to start pulling its weight. Mullen likes to get the running game going and he likes mobile quarterbacks, but Chris Relf is gone along with workhorse back Vick Ballard. However, Tyler Russell could be the best pure passing quarterback the program has ever had, and he has a potentially loaded receiving corps to work with. The running game won't be ignored, but with Russell under center the attack should be more dangerous. It needs to be.

MSU should be able to give everyone more of a fight. The team is better than last year's version, and Mullen is growing into a top coaching prospect who'll get more and more attention from the higher-profile programs. But in the end, the Bulldogs are probably going to spend another year beating their heads against the SEC West wall.

What to watch for on offense: The passing game. It's not like MSU didn't throw the ball at all last year, and compared to the rest of the SEC the passing attack was just fine despite finishing 94th in the nation. The offense had a decent balance averaging 182 passing yards per game and 175 on the ground, but it would be a huge, huge help if Tyler Russell could crank things up to around 225 passing yards per game with more big plays. MSU didn't strength the field nearly enough averaging a pedestrian 11.9 yards per pop. The 19 touchdown passes weren't bad, but 15 of them came in the seven wins with four being thrown in the six losses. The receiving corps gets everyone of note back and should be far better at opening things up for the running game.

What to watch for on defense: A killer secondary. Whether the great stats came from playing against a slew of awful passing games or if they came from talent in the defensive backfield, the bottom line was a great season from a loaded secondary that should be even better. Johnthan Banks should be in the NFL as we speak – the star corner would've been a top 50 overall pick – while Darius Slaw and Corey Broomfield are terrific veterans in the rotation. Safety Nickoe Whitley is one of the league's premier hitters, but he's coming off an Achilles heel injury and still needs time. On the plus side, Dee Arrington might be the team's most talented safety and there's decent depth across the board to fill in the gaps. Throw in a decent pass rush, and it'll be a shock if MSU doesn't finish in the top 20 in pass defense.

The team will be far better if … the running game rolls. Yes, the MSU offense should be more passing oriented with Russell under center, but last year the wins came when the ground game worked. The Bulldogs ripped apart Auburn for 333 yards on the ground and two scores in a 41-34 shootout loss, but there wasn't any real rushing production in the other five loses. The five worst rushing performances on the year all came in those losses, failing to hit the 100-yard mark against LSU, Georgia, Arkansas or Alabama, bottoming out netting just 12 yards against the Tide. It wasn't just a 2012 problem. In 2011, the 9-4 Bulldogs' three worst rushing days all led to losses. They lost all four of their worst rushing games of 2010, too.

The schedule: It's a quirky schedule with just enough layups to ensure a winning season. Whether or not a good year can become a great year will depend on whether or not the Bulldogs can hold serve at home, including the SEC opener against Auburn and a winnable game against Tennessee. If MSU can win those two, a 7-0 start should be there for the taking. And then it'll be time to pay.

After closing out the easy part of the slate against Middle Tennessee, at trip to Alabama kicks off a fun month with Texas A&M coming to Starkville and followed up by a date at LSU and a visit from Arkansas. The regular season closes out at Ole Miss, but if MSU can win all of its home games, the Egg Bowl should be for a ten-win regular season.

Best offensive player: Junior QB Tyler Russell. Chris Relf is gone and Dylan Favre took off, so while Dak Prescott is a dangerous dual-threat option, the season will be sink-or-swim with Russell. The 6-4, 220-pound pro-style passer can move a little bit, but his real worth is as a playmaker who can stretch the field better than Relf ever could. He stepped in and wasn't bad in the middle of the year, completing 11-of-13 passes for 166 yard and three scores against UAB, and 9-of-12 passes for 172 yards and a touchdown against Kentucky, but he has to bomb away more and not just be a game manager.

Best defensive player: Senior CB Johnthan Banks. All the tools are there with 6-2, 185-pound size, great speed and athleticism, and excellent hitting ability. It was a bit of a shocker when he chose to stay in school, but now he'll be the anchor of a terrific secondary while also being one of the SEC's best ball hawks. A big hitter, he can come up with the ball-jarring pop long with the solid open field tackle, but more than anything else, he's great at making the key interception with five last year including a pick six in the loss to Auburn.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore OT Blaine Clausell. It's not like the line was a rock in pass protection last year, but it wasn't awful. This year, with more of a passing element coming from Russell, the line needs to be even better at keeping the quarterback upright. With left tackle James Carmon gone, now it'll be up to the 6-7, 305-pound Clausell, an active blocker with the right frame and make-up to be solid. However, he's still young and he's still learning on the fly. If he's not great, then Russell can't shine and the offense won't roll.

The season will be a success if … the Bulldogs win ten games. Forget about the road games at LSU and Alabama, but MSU should be able to win two out of the three at home against Auburn, Texas A&M and Arkansas. As long as there aren't any gags against teams like Tennessee at home or Kentucky or Ole Miss on the road, a nine-win regular season is possible with the home of getting to double digit wins for the first time since 1999 with a bowl victory. The team should be just good enough to make it happen.

Key game: Sept. 8 vs. Auburn. MSU gave the 2010 national champion one of its toughest battles of the season in a 17-14 Tiger win. The 2011 41-34 shootout was fun, but it was another MSU loss. Including the 3-2 pitchers' duel in 2008, Auburn has won the last four in the series and ten of the last 11. If the Bulldogs win the home opener they'll almost certainly be 5-0 going into the home game against Tennessee. Win that, and barring a total gag, they'll be 7-0 before facing Alabama.

2011 Fun Stats:
- 1st Quarter Scoring: Mississippi State 110 – Opponents 58
- Punt Return Average: Mississippi State 11.1 yards – Opponents 5.0 yards
- Time of Possession: Opponents 33:38 – Mississippi State 26:10

- 2012 Mississippi State Preview | 2012 Mississippi State Offense
- 2012 Mississippi State Defense | 2012 Mississippi State Depth Chart