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Midseason review: Mississippi State

MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS

Record: (6-0, 3-0 SEC)

The Bulldogs are off to their best start since 1999 and could move to 7-0 this Saturday with a win against Middle Tennessee. The tougher tests are still to come, starting with Alabama in two weeks, but it’s a Mississippi State team that has made every play it’s needed to make in the first half of the season, and has also been plenty resourceful. The Bulldogs are first nationally among FBS schools with a plus-15 turnover margin. They’ve forced 18 and lost only three. They’ve also been stingy on defense and are allowing just 16.3 points per game, which ranks them fifth in the SEC in scoring defense. The 41-31 win against Tennessee last week helped to legitimize Mississippi State’s unbeaten start. Until the win against the Vols, the Bulldogs’ toughest test had been a 30-24 road win against Troy. Still, they’ve won all three of their SEC games by double digits this season, and debuted in the first BCS standings at No. 12. One of the keys will be keeping senior offensive guard Tobias Smith as healthy as possible and in the lineup. He’s battling an aching left knee after having surgery last season. When he’s in there at right guard, the Bulldogs are a different team offensively. Dan Mullen, in his fourth season at Mississippi State, has the program one win away from locking up a third straight winning season, which hasn’t happened in Starkville since the Bulldogs had four consecutive winning seasons from 1997-2000 under Jackie Sherrill. The Bulldogs, though, have their sights set a lot higher than simply finishing above .500. They think this is their chance to make some real noise in the Western Division race.

Offensive MVP: Quarterback Tyler Russell. Even though his completion percentage could be a little better (57.7 percent), Russell has brought some much-needed life to the Bulldogs’ passing game. He’s thrown 12 touchdown passes and only one interception, and has been at his best against SEC competition. In three league games, he’s completed 62.9 percent of his passes for 782 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions.

Defensive MVP: Cornerback Johnthan Banks. He’s Mississippi State’s stopper on defense and one of the most complete cornerbacks in college football. Banks has three interceptions at the halfway point and made the play against Tennessee that turned the game around. He stripped running back Devrin Young on the sideline and then recovered the fumble to set up the first of two Mississippi State touchdowns in the fourth quarter.