Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- The freight train wearing No. 24 and running around the Mississippi State practice field has some advice for SEC defenders this season.
Junior running back Anthony Dixon is one of the most bruising runners in the league. He's listed at 238 pounds, but admits that he was over 250 pounds in the Bulldogs' Liberty Bowl win over Central Florida last season.
His goal is to start this season closer to 230. Either way, he says he's reshaped his body, stronger than he's ever been -- and maybe most importantly -- smarter than he's ever been as a runner.
"I have my little shake back and I'm feeling good all together," said Dixon, who rushed for 1,006 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. "The biggest thing was that I put on muscle. Last year, I was big, but I really wasn't a muscular guy. I was just fighting hard.
"This year, I've got more muscle with that fight."
And a better idea of how to read his blocks.
Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom, who coached running backs in the NFL, challenged Dixon to become a more patient runner and not to be a bull in a china shop all the time.
"Focusing on my reads is my biggest problem," Dixon said. "Sometimes, I'm just out there running. I'm getting the ball and seeing the defense and looking to get bad angles or just run over people. This year, I'm reading the gaps better. It's like Coach Croom said. I did leave some yards on the field last year by not reading the gap and seeing wide-open holes. I made 4 and 5 yards when I could have gotten 10 or 15."
Mississippi State quarterback Wesley Carroll knew this summer that Dixon meant business.
"He was running in the front of the pack in all of our [conditioning] runs, and you see him now and he's moving better than he ever has," Carroll said. "He looks like an NFL back right now. He's determined and focused, and we can really rally behind a guy like that."
Even though the Bulldogs finished 8-5 last season, Dixon doesn't sense that anybody is taking them seriously in the SEC race.
"We're still the underdog right now, and we don't have any problem with that," Dixon said. "We're willing to earn our respect."
Senior free safety Derek Pegues said the stakes have been raised ... considerably.
"We feel like we can compete with any team in the SEC this year," he said. "Our goal is to win the SEC championship and get to a BCS game."