2010 Mississippi State Preview
Mississippi State DE Pernell McPhee
Mississippi State DE Pernell McPhee
Posted Jul 24, 2010

While it's still going to be tough to navigate through the nasty SEC (and a BRUTAL road slate), Mississippi State has enough talent and experience in place to make another huge step forward in Dan Mullen's second year. Can Pernell McPhee help lead the way to a bowl? Check out the 2010 CFN MSU Preview.

Mississippi State Bulldogs

Preview 2010

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Dan Mullen
2nd year: 5-7
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 22, Def. 23, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 15
Ten Best Mississippi State Players
1. LB K.J. Wright, Sr.
2. OT Derek Sherrod, Sr.
3. DE Pernell McPhee, Sr.
4. WR Chad Bumphis, Soph.
5. LB Chris White, Sr.
6. C J.C. Brignone, Sr.
7. OT Addison Lawrence, Jr.
8. RB Vick Ballard, Jr.
9. RB Robert Elliott, Jr.
10. S Charles Mitchell, Jr.
2010 Schedule

Sept. 4 Memphis
Sept. 9 Auburn
Sept. 18 at LSU
Sept. 25 Georgia
Oct. 2 Alcorn State
Oct. 9 at Houston
Oct. 16 at Florida
Oct. 23 UAB
Oct. 30 Kentucky
Nov. 13 at Alabama
Nov. 20 Arkansas
Nov. 27 at Ole Miss

Second year head coach Dan Mullen isn't trying to be gimmicky, and he isn't trying to come up with a short-term fix to make Mississippi State competitive again. He's taking the solid base left over from the Sylvester Croom era, adding a few very good pieces to the puzzle, and he's putting together a team and a program that should be good enough to get to a bowl game every year. If Kentucky can go to bowl games four years in a row, a feat MSU has never accomplished, then it can certainly happen in Starkville.

Mullen didn't get on any Coach of the Year short lists, and the team only improved by one win, but the change in production in just one season was remarkable. MSU went from …

- 105th in the nation in rushing to 9th (100.58 yards per game to 227.58)
- 115th in the nation in scoring to 72nd (15.25 points per game to 25.58)
- 113th in the nation in total offense to 65th (274.92 yards per game to 371.92) and
- 114th in the nation in sacks allowed to 49th (40 sacks to 20)

The defense took a step back, which was expected with the coaching staff going from the defensive-oriented Croom to the offensive-minded Mullen, but it didn't fall off the map. Now the hope is for the veteran offense to be far better and more efficient, while the defense can improve just enough to win the tight games.

Yeah, close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and girls in a bar after 3 a.m., but the Bulldogs have been so achingly close to coming up with nice records over the last few years that they have to win every close game. And Mullen knows it.

It looks great on paper and in a press conference to say you gave Florida all it could handle and made Tim Tebow look ridiculous, but it was still a ten-point loss. It's okay to point to a schedule that had five games against teams that finished with double-digit wins, but an SEC team is supposed to beat Houston (and didn't). The 3-2 game against Auburn in 2008 was certainly winnable, as was the 14-13 loss to Kentucky, as was the 30-26 loss to LSU, but that's the nature of the game. There are going to be close games and there are going to be tough losses, but MSU can't be on the wrong side of any of them and hope to be in the hunt for a winning season.

Veteran teams tend to win the tighter ones and this year's squad has a terrific mix of experienced players hitting their prime to go along with a terrific base of young, promising prospects. Mullen has just scratched the surface of what Mississippi State can become, and while the program may never be Alabama or Florida, that doesn't mean it can't get to the point where it beats them on a regular basis.

What to watch for on offense: The backfield situation. The offensive line will be among the most productive in the SEC, and the receiving corps has explosion and game-breaking potential. The key will be to settle into a combination in the backfield with running QB Chris Relf and top-passing prospect Tyler Russell battling it out for time. With the loss of Anthony Dixon, the hope is that Robert Elliott plays up to his immense prep hype and/or Vick Ballard steps out of the JUCO ranks and into the starring role he appears to be ready for. MSU has the pieces, now they all have to fit.

What to watch for on defense: The defensive tackles. There are a few areas of the team that haven't been this good in a long time (primarily the receiving corps and the offensive line), and the defensive interior is among them. Sophomores Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd are two rising stars who can hold their own against the run, and with a year of experience under their belts, they should be far more consistent. Throw in the addition of massive, 6-7, 345-pound JUCO transfer James Carmon, and suddenly the Bulldogs have the makings of a brick wall in the interior to allow all-star end Pernell McPhee and promising sophomore Nick Bell to flourish on the outside.

The team will be far better if … the offense can convert a third down chance. The Bulldogs came up with 229 first downs last year, and in a perfect world, there's a close to even split on how they come but with more on the side of the passing game. That means the 3rd-and-midrange plays are completed. MSU got 140 first downs on the ground and just 78 through the air, and it showed as the offense finished 104th in the nation converting an SEC-worst 33.3% of the time.

The schedule: The Bulldogs will have to do some work to get to a bowl game. There can't be any slips against Memphis, Alcorn State, or UAB or a 13th game is out of the question. There will have to be at least two home wins against Auburn, Georgia, Kentucky and Arkansas, and then there will have to be a road upset. That will be tough considering the five road dates are at LSU, Houston, Florida, Alabama, and Ole Miss … yeeeeeeesh. If there's a tougher road slate in the country, good luck finding it. However, four of the first five games are at home and there's a nice break from the road after the October 16th game in Gainesville with the next away game at Alabama on November 13th.

Best offensive player: Sophomore WR Chad Bumphis. OT Dererk Sherrod could make a case, and the fans are hoping for QB Tyler Russell and/or Chris Relf to be in the discussion, but Bumphis is the do-it-all playmaker who'll add the pizzazz to the attack. As a true freshman, the 5-10, 195-pounder led the team with 32 catches for 375 yards and four scores while also averaging 23.9 yards per kickoff return and nine yards per punt return. This year he'll be used more as a running back after getting the ball just six times for 73 yards and a score. He'll line up in a variety of ways, including under center.

Best defensive player: Senior LB K.J. Wright. The tools are there to be an NFL defender for a long, long time, but for now the 6-4, 250-pounder will have to fill the void left by Jamar Chaney as the star and the leader of the linebacking corps. Wright finished second on the team last year, and he has the speed, the size, and the experience to blow up as an All-SEC statistical superstar in the more aggressive style of defense.

Key player to a successful season: Junior RB Robert Elliott and/or Junior RB Vick Ballard. Anthony Dixon missed the layup game against Jackson State and was held in relative check by Florida and Alabama, yet he still ran for 1,391 yards and 12 touchdowns averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Elliott was considered a superstar recruit, but he hasn't been able to push his way in with injuries and Dixon keeping him in a supporting role. Ballard is a top JUCO transfer who came up with a fantastic spring and should add the needed punch to a team that relies on the ground attack. If these two aren't great, and they should be behind a terrific line, then MSU has to go to the passing game more and will get out of its comfort zone.

The season will be a success if … the Bulldogs go bowling. It might seem like a modest goal, but with a brutal road schedule with at least three certain losses, and with the hope of winning just one of the five games, and with nasty home dates against Auburn, Georgia, and Arkansas, getting to six wins will be a better feat than it'll get credit for.

Key game: Sept. 9 vs. Auburn. The Bulldogs are 1-8 in the last nine games against the Tigers, and it won't be easy this year to break the trends. MSU can't afford to give away many, if any home games, and it certainly can't afford to lose any SEC games at home. With a trip to LSU to follow and a date with Georgia after that, MSU has to establish itself early on with an important home win that would boost the young team's confidence immeasurably.

2009 Fun Stats:
- First Quarter Points Allowed: 68 – Second Quarter Points Allowed: 105
- Touchdown passes: Opponents 18 – Mississippi State 9
- Penalties: Mississippi State 67 for 590 yards – Opponents 67 for 517 yards

- 2010 Mississippi State Preview | 2010 Mississippi State Offense
- 2010 Mississippi State Defense | 2010 Mississippi State Depth Chart
- Mississippi State Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006