When people think of the words: “Mississippi State”, they think of the word “Cowbell” rather than “Good football team”. This is rather harsh, bearing in mind the turnaround that Dan Mullen has put into Starkville in his last three years. The fanbase now EXPECTS to go bowling, because they’ve been to one for the last two years (which, for a team that had only been to one over the course of 2002-2009, it’s a miracle!), and high times are now behind the former University of Florida’s former offensive co-ordinator.

They are going to tempt recruits with a $75m stadium expansion, which should see the sound of cowbells ring even louder across the State of Mississippi.

LAST YEAR

Was last year really that much of a disappointment for the Bulldogs, who were some people’s dark horses for a SEC West title? We don’t think so, bearing in mind the incredible The Bulldogs gave LSU and Alabama good games, should have beaten Auburn and South Carolina, and were whipped by Georgia and Arkansas. Of their other SEC games, they beat Kentucky and Mississippi, although in the final days of the 2011 season, it was not known whether the Rebs actually played football or not. Also, they also beat Memphis, Louisiana Tech (they were unconvincing) and UT-Martin.

In the NFL Draft, the Bulldogs saw defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (1), running back Vick Ballard (5) and strong safety Charles Mitchell (6) all drafted by NFL teams.

Who’s going to make up for the loss of Vick Ballard?

Vick Ballard is a monstrous loss for MSU’s offense, after putting together nearly 1,900 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns, as well as nearly 200 yards receiving. Ballard was brilliant for the Bulldogs, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. There’s going to be an incredible amount of pressure on LaDarius Perkins and Nick Griffin to perform – because of the amount of work that Griffin told. And against the likes of Alabama and LSU’s defense, they are going to get all the work they need.

And what can be done through the air?

Chris Relf’s graduation means that a lot is going to be put on Tyler Russell to perform – and after his injury in the Music City Bowl last season (preceded by a poor completion rate during the regular season). OC Les Koenning has already pointed out that he was a little ‘slow’ in the red-zone, which Bulldogs fans are really hoping won’t be to the team’s detriment when things become competitive. Russell certainly gives a good (if cliched) interview, but it’s not about the interview, it’s about the arm. MSU fans will just be praying for ‘complete, complete, complete’.

And defensively?

Fletcher Cox’s loss will be felt a lot at defensive tackle – Mullen will be banking on Josh Boyd and Curtis Virges to stop the run. Personally, we’re looking forward to 6 ft 5, 255lb defensive end Denico Autry, who’s tipped to be a sack machine this year.

Mullen nearly walked out of his first press conference after being asked questions about the health of strong safety Nickoe Whitley, but have no fear: 11 days later Whitley answered the question himself: He’s back at full speed. That’s good, because forces reckon that he’s going to be drafted next year. Let’s just hope his Achilles remains OK, eh? Mullen’s press conferences have indicated that he’s happy that Corey Broomfield and Johnthan Banks’ progress at cornerback – and he’s even using Broomfield as a safety. What does this spell for pass-happy offenses such as Arkansas this year? Trouble if they get it wrong.

What’s the 2012 schedule like?

Looking at the schedule (thanks to Yahoo), Mississippi State can conceivably have an incredible start to the season, going 7-0 in their first seven games of the season – particularly as both Auburn and Tennessee play in Cowbell Country. That’s not to say that we don’t think both Auburn and Tennessee will be bowl-eligible this year, but it’s to say that both teams are going to struggle in the cacophony of Davis-Wade.

Then comes the biggest problem, road games at Alabama and LSU, and home games against Texas A&M and Arkansas. MSU fans may expect to go 1-3 in that stretch. Then comes The Egg Bowl against Ole Miss, where anything can happen – and usually does – particularly in Oxford where the six hours of party before the action are usually better than the games itself.

September 1 vs. Jackson State

September 8 vs. Auburn

September 15 at Troy

September 22 vs. South Alabama

October 6 at Kentucky

October 13 vs. Tennessee

October 20 vs. Middle Tennessee

October 27 at Alabama

November 3 vs. Texas A&M

November 10 at LSU

November 17 vs. Arkansas

November 24 at Ole Miss

BOTTOM LINE: Mississippi State doesn’t upset Alabama, LSU or Arkansas, but still goes a tidy 8-4 this year, beating Auburn in its first non-Mississippi SEC West win in forever. This automatically makes Dan Mullen God.

 

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