As the 2011 Mississippi State season came to a conclusion with a 23-17 win in the Franklin American Music City Bowl over Wake Forest, I was present in the post game press conference.
During the press conference, one of the other media members present questioned head coach Dan Mullen about the disappointment of the 2011 season. In theory, I understood his question because the Bulldogs had gone from 9-4 in 2010 to 7-6 in 2011.
However, the records only tell a portion of the story. The Bulldogs had a much tougher schedule in 2011 but went toe-to-toe with the No.1 and No. 2 teams in the nation for more than three quarters and rarely were not within reach in the final minutes of the game.
A lack of depth hurt the Bulldogs late in football games but they looked more competitive as a whole in 2011 in comparison to 2010.
I am aware of all the key players that Mississippi State is losing, including star running back Vick Ballard and several key offensive linemen. Mullen, however, was wise enough to dip down into the JUCO ranks and pull two solid offensive lineman and another from a post graduate school.
As a result, the Bulldogs will be able to put together an offensive line that should be able to match the production of the 2011 version and perhaps surpass it. Moreover, while LaDarius Perkins is not on the same level as Ballard, he could be set for a big season. And if Nick Griffin, Josh Robinson, or Derrick Milton are able to earn significant carries the Bulldogs can attack by a committee of running backs.
The defense is facing a similar situation with seven returning starters on defense but still looking to replace key players. There will be some youth but there is enough talent returning to hide a limited amount of youthful mistakes.
While all of these mentioned issues should be considered legitimate areas of concern, the Bulldogs have one major issue that is in their favor—their schedule.
The Bulldogs have six games on their schedule that they could not lose on a bad day against Jackson State, Troy, South Alabama, Kentucky, Middle Tennessee State and Ole Miss.
Four of the remaining six games are in Starkville, MS, with Auburn, Tennessee, Texas A&M, and Arkansas all coming to Davis Wade Stadium. They will have to travel to Alabama and LSU, but a 10-win season is not out of the question.
If the Bulldogs are able to win three of the four mentioned home games and a bowl win they could be on their way to their second ten win season in school history.
Many predicted that Mullen would be gone by season four. Instead, he might be close to making the Bulldogs a legit contender—it's all part of the plan.