For the first time since 2003, a new face will be pacing the sidelines for MSU, and that won’t be a baffled, confused, low energy Sylvester Croom. Since December, that new face has done everything in his power, to revive and breathe life back into the Bulldog Nation- from the players, to the fans. One way that Dan Mullen has done that-is simply the fact that he has done things quite differently than any other coach in Starkville has done before. From the style of Offense, to uniforms, to stadium renovations, to season ticket sales, to ‘completely’ changing the mindset of the University and football program. Hope has descended on Starkvegas.
Known traditionally as a hard-nosed, Defensive team, State will once again try to shake the stereotypes and improve on the offensive side of the ball. Since 2001, State has finished on average, as the 115th worst offense in the country. Last season could serve as a perfect example of that fact, because the Dawgs barely averaged over 15 points a game. Despite what the skeptics say, there is some very good talent on that side of the ball. The strongest part of the O, will definitely be the RB’s-where State returns a load of play makers. RB’s Anthony Dixon and Christian Ducre’ will share the 1 string reps, and will be backed by Robert Elliot, Arnil Stallworth, and Montrell Conner. Coaches saw little difference between the effort and execution of AD and CD during Spring and Summer practices, and both Stallworth and Elliot are finally healthy-each adding a different dimension and wrinkle to the running attack. Conner is a ‘Hoss’ for a Freshman, and was also ranked in ESPN’s top 150 recruits this past Spring. If there is one question mark for the Dawgs this past offseason, it would have had to have been at WR. Much was made about the inexperience that State would have to field at this position, but due to recruiting, leadership, and the emergence of young players, the ‘hands team’-may not be as weak as some thought. They will be led by Brandon McCrae and Juco transfer Leon Berry. Mullen’s spread, will require a strong group of Freshman to contribute immediately. Highly touted Chad Bumphis-who many are calling the next Percy Harvin, Brandon Heavens, Ricco Sanders, and Chris Smith- will be among those ‘baptized by fire.’ As far as TE’s, Marcus Green returns after a injury-prone 2008, along with Kendrick Cook-who had a strong Spring. One reason the Dawgs have faced so many problems moving the ball in the past, stems from poor O-Line play, and lack of talent at the position. The good news is that State returns 6 hog-mollies, that have significant playing time under their belts. Derek Sherrod and J.C. Brignone will have to be consistent anchors, and they must stay healthy. But, from all we are hearing out of Starkville, the O-Line is in better physical shape-since they had to slim down in order to be more mobile within the spread. And last but not least on this side of the ball, is the question that has lurked in all Bulldog’s minds-since the signing of Tyler Russell, which is ‘WHO’ will start for the Dawgs come September 5? The truth is, QB Tyson Lee still seems to have the reigns of respect and leadership, and Chris Relf-who has shown dramatic improvement since last year, appears to be impressing Mullen enough to earn his way on the field, atleast in some magnitude. As for Russell, his arm and talent are leagues above that of Relf and Lee, but seems to still be learning his way around the playbook-which might hinder his PT early in the year.
One of the best things Dawg fans have to look forward to is the return of LB Jamar Chaney, who was injured in the first game of 08′-vs La Tech. The veteran ball hawk, will command the heart of State’s team, which of course is the LB’s. K.J. Wright, the team’s 2nd leading tackler returns, and State welcomes in Juco transfer Chris White-who is only going to add to the D’s ability to contain opposing offenses. Jamie Jones, Bo Walters, and Karlin Brown, should be able to hold their own-when spelling the starters. Up front, the DL appears to be as strong as the LB’s. Kyle Love, Sean Ferguson, Charles Burns, and the BEAST Pernell McPhee- bring experience, the ability to plug holes, and a decent pass rush. Backups should provide depth at each position along the line. One area of concern for the D, has consistently been at DB. For the CB’s, Marcus Washington will have to be a leader, while coaches hope they can get solid play from Corey Broomfield and Damien Anderson-on the other side of the field. As for the Safety position, no one looks forward to replacing 2 great centerfielders-especially in the same off season, but with graduation taking Pegues and Fitzugh-the Dawgs had to. But, all is not lost-thanks to Zach Smith and Charles Mitchell’s return. Both are strong players, and in many circles, Mitchell is thought to be the next the Pegues-and I agree.
The Dawgs expect to have a much improved special teams group. With graduation taking Adam Carlson and Blake McAdams, Dawg fans will be scratching their heads a lot less on 4th downs from now on. 2 nationally recognized kickers- Sean Brauchle and Heath Hutchens, will handle the kicking duties. Brauchle is a Juco First Team All-American, while Hutchens averaged 44 yds per punt at ICC.
Players to Watch: Chad Bumphis-he will line up at WR and RB, and his speed and versatility should find him helping with return duties as well. Mullen will put the ball in this kid’s hands, as much as possible.
Pernell McPhee- the highly recruited DL, simply said that State would lead the SEC in sacks. He should make everyone on the line-better, just by his presence.
Anthony Dixon- the Senior RB, looks to become State’s all-time leading rusher. But has yet to fully live up to his true potential. But, I say with better O-Line play, more gaps to hit, and getting the ball in open space-will have us loving #24, like never before.
Tyler Russell- the Meridian native is a MSU fan’s dream to have at QB. And even though he won’t be the starter vs JSU, slowly but surely, the kid will find his way onto the field. I expect Tyler to leave State as the all-time leading passer, which won’t take much, but he will set the standard for our signal callers of the future.
Schedule: JSU, @ Auby, @ Vandy, LSU, GT, Houston, @ MTSU, UF, @UK, Bama, @ Arky, and Ole Miss.
My Prediction: State returns a lot of the talent that took them to a bowl in 07′, and that accompanied with a top 25 recruiting class-who is game ready, will have the Dawgs sneaking up on some teams. I see 6-6 or better as a complete ‘reality’ for this team, as well as a MINOR bowl. The Dawgs will be competitive in most every game, and their D will rank in the top 5 in every defensive stat category.Putting the playbook pieces together throughout the season-will hurt the Dawgs, but Tyler Russell’s start vs Houston-will ignite the Dawgs Offense. I also see two BIG SEC wins.
Others Are Saying: The Sagarin ratings came out-in collaboration with USA Today. They predict us to finish either 2-10 or 3-9. And have us as underdogs to Vandy, Arky, and Houston.