Over the next few weeks, we will start taking a look at the SEC teams and discuss the apparent strengths and weaknesses of them as the 2013 season nears.
The idea is to identify what we “know” – as much as we can “know” anything about a season that has yet to start. We will also examine what we think we know, what we don’t know and when we might have answers to the biggest questions.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
What We Know
State’s stable of running backs and experienced offensive line give Dan Mullen’s offense good balance – Any time an offense starts with someone with the talent of RB LaDarius Perkins, it’s a good omen. Add to it that the Bulldogs return their four leading rushers as well as four of five offensive linemen and it would seem this team should have a physical toughness to it. At Florida, Mullen’s offenses were known as spread attacks forcing defenses into quick – and often wrong decisions. He still employs similar strategies and emphases at State, but had the ability to add a smashmouth dimension that existed largely only with Tim Tebow in Gainesville. Perkins rushed for 1,024 yards and 8 TDs a year ago. G Gabe Jackson, an all-SEC pick last season, returns to anchor the line this year.
What We Think We Know
QB Tyler Russell will take strides as a senior this year – There were times last year when Russell looked like a poised passer able to avoid costly mistakes. Through seven games, he threw 15 TDs against just 1 INT. Then the competition stiffened, the Bulldogs called upon Russell to do more and everything seemingly fell apart. State went 1-5 in games when Russell threw an interception last season. His worst performance came out in a four-INT Gator Bowl performance, with Northwestern drubbing State 34-20. However, Russell is now a senior and is expected to showcase more of the decision-maker who led his team to a 7-0 start and less of the crippling mistakes that resulted in its 1-5 finish. Mullen spent a good amount of time this summer praising his quarterback, specifically as a leader. But…
What We Don’t Know
Who will catch Russell’s passes? – It isn’t a question of talent among the receivers in Starkville, but rather experience. The top four pass-catchers from last season are gone, meaning Russell will target a completely different group of players. There are plenty of capable starting candidates, led by Jameon Lewis, who could also be a game-changer as a return specialist this season. Lewis spent the last couple years biding his time behind Chad Bumphis, who enjoyed a stellar career at State. Joe Morrow and Robert Johnson reportedly lead the competition. Junior-college transfer Jeremey Chappelle has also shown the ability to play a big role when he gets called upon. One early report from camp, from The Jackson Clarion-Ledger’s Michael Bonner, indicated that the group failed an August test during a recent scrimmage by making bad mistakes and committing careless penalties. That can be explained away by inexperience, but the lights go on against a marquee team in just a matter of weeks. When Will We Know? It won’t take long to find out what’s going on here. With a Week 1 battle against Oklahoma State, someone will seemingly have to make a strong move out of the gate.
Can the Bulldogs mask an inexperienced secondary? – Losing someone of the caliber of CB Darius Slay is difficult. Trying to replace CB Johnthan Banks, who won the Jim Thorpe Award last season, is close to impossible. So good luck, State. In all seriousness, CBs Jamerson Love has all the tools to be a spectacular player. CB Taveze Calhoun has tried to make an early move on a starting position with a strong camp. The Bulldogs have some talent along the front seven that could relieve some of the pressure on the youngsters in the secondary by applying some of their own on the quarterbacks. DE Denico Autry showed flashes last season and could be in for a big 2013. The Bulldogs return two of three starting linebackers – Benardrick McKinney and Deontae Skinner – though they will miss all-league performer Cameron Lawrence. When Will We Know? Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy has been known to ask his quarterbacks (with an “s”) to throw the ball a time or 50. First-year defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend had better have his prepared for Week 1 or things could turn ugly for the Bulldogs.