2012 record: 8-5
2012 conference record: 4-4
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense 5; kicker/punter: 2
2012 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: LaDarius Perkins* (1,024 yards)
Passing: Tyler Russell* (2,897 yards)
Receiving: Chad Bumphis (922 yards)
Tackles: Cameron Lawrence (120)
Sacks: Preston Smith* (4.5)
Interceptions: Darius Slay (5)
1. Russell’s experience: Fifth-year senior Tyler Russell is one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the SEC. He was also one of the league’s most improved quarterbacks from his sophomore to junior season. The Bulldogs feel like they’ll be able to do even more things with Russell next season because of his experience and knowledge of the offense. He has the coaches’ trust, and more importantly, the trust and respect of all of his teammates. Coach Dan Mullen says confidently, “We expect him to have a huge year.”
2. Young guns on defense: New defensive coordinator Geoff Collins wants to dial up the pressure and adopt more of an attacking style. He has some promising young talent to work with and liked what he saw from those guys this spring. Sophomore tackles Quay Evans and Nick James, sophomore end Ryan Brown, sophomore middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney, redshirt freshman outside linebacker Beniquez Brown and sophomore cornerback Cedric Jiles form what should be a stout nucleus defensively for a couple of years to come.
3. Cox steps right in: Programs bring in junior college players to help right away, and Justin Cox came in this spring and established himself at cornerback. The Bulldogs needed reinforcements at cornerback with second-round draft picks Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay both departing. Cox could also be a factor at safety and the nickel spot and should be ready to go in the fall now that he’s had the spring to acclimate himself to Mississippi State’s defensive scheme.
1. On the receiving end: With the four leading receivers from a year ago gone, the Bulldogs identified several candidates this spring to take those spots. But now they have to go out and prove they can do it in games. Junior Jameon Lewis is the heir apparent to Chad Bumphis in the slot. Junior Robert Johnson has all the physical tools to be a big-time receiver, and junior college newcomer Jeremey Chappelle showed up big in the spring game. Even with the loss of Marcus Green, there’s good depth at tight end, which means there could be more two-tight end sets next season.
2. Smith’s future: It sounds as if team leader and veteran offensive guard Tobias Smith will stay on next season, but do so as a student coach. He’s yet to finalize his decision after being granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. He’s played through an assortment of injuries and gutted it out last season on a bad knee. If he does indeed opt not to play, sophomore Justin Malone would step in at guard. Malone started in five games last season when Smith was unable to go. The Bulldogs return four other starters in the offensive line, and junior Damien Robinson made a move at tackle this spring.
3. Coming out swinging: The Bulldogs still have a bad taste in their mouths over the way last season ended. They lost five of their last six games after starting out 7-0. Getting that winning edge back to start next season will be important, and the opener will go a long way toward setting the tone. Mississippi State kicks off the season against Oklahoma State in Houston’s Reliant Stadium. It’s one of only two games away from home for the Bulldogs in the months of September and October.