The Mississippi State Bulldogs will be looking this fall to finally put an end to the rebuilding.
After finally posting a winning season in 2007—including wins over the University of Mississippi in the Egg Bowl rivalry and UCF in the Liberty Bowl—the Bulldogs finally have reason for high expectations.
With the spring practices over, it's time to look at who will have to step up for the Bulldogs to be SEC contenders this year.
With a team that has always been built around defense, big-time defensive playmakers are needed. The Bulldogs lose some powerful forces in Titus Brown and Gabe O'Neal, but other players have shown that they can step up to lead the Dawgs' stifling D.
Look for safety Derek Pegues to continue his reign of terror in the State secondary. The speedster from Batesville already holds the school record by returning three touchdowns for interceptions, and led the team in INTs last year with five.
Pegues is also the fastest player on the team, which means that as a kick returner he poses another threat. He did, after all, score the dramatic winning punt return touchdown against Ole Miss last season.
Where Pegues really excels, however, is in an area that doesn't get recorded in the stat book. Though only 5'10" and 196 pounds, Pegues is one of the hardest hitters on the team, and has broken up countless passes (many of which can be seen on YouTube). Look for Pegues to help seal many a victory with his ability to destroy receivers. Moving him to safety from corner might have been the best move the coaching staff has done.
Pegues will also be joined in the secondary by Keith Fitzhugh, another senior standout who helped the Bulldogs tremendously in their wins over Ole Miss and UCF. The duo of Fitzhugh and Pegues should give any opposing coach quite a headache this coming season.
Another one of the hard hitters, LB Jamar Chaney, will look to stand out in his senior year. He has been a contributor for a few years, so it is no surprise that he would step up now. Chaney and Pegues have both been named to the preseason watch list for the Nagurski Trophy.
However, the Dogs will also look to Dominic Douglas, a surprising JuCo-transfer LB, to contribute in this area. Douglas, a great combo of speed and strength, seemed to be involved in every tackle made last season.
The offense, however, is still a mystery. After losing some very talented linemen to graduation and off the field problems, it is unclear what the strongest part of the Bulldog offense actually is.
The most solid area of the offense, though, will be the running game. Bruising back Anthony Dixon (6-1 240) will look to have another 1,000 yard season, and this year he will continue to get help from Christian Ducre and from redshirt freshman Robert Elliott, who coach Sylvester Croom has always liked.
The quarterback position is still questionable, though Wesley Carroll is the obvious favorite, as he is the only one with real experience. However, look for short JUCO walk-on Tyson Lee to see plenty of playing time. He's a talented QB who got a lot of time in the spring games.
Without a clear grasp on receivers and after losing a phenomenal group of TEs, Mississippi State looks bound for another season based around defense. This isn't a bad thing, though, as the Bulldog D looks very solid, and the offense seems to be getting its act together.
Look for Mississippi State to pose more of a threat this year than in the past. I'm not claiming that an SEC Championship is coming, but the West might want to look out. This isn't a team the rest if the conference can just overlook, like in years past.
P.S. If you'd like to see an example of what these players can do, you can find some here: