Mississippi State 2011 team preview

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Mississippi State Bulldogs
By Andy Staples
 
Quarterback Chris Relf :: Tyler Kaufman/Icon SMI
 
Team Vitals
Head Coach Dan Mullen
Mullen at Mississippi St. 14-11 (7-9 SEC)
Wins at Miss St. 3, 8, 4, 5, 9
Offensive Coordinator Les Koenning
Defensive Coordinators Geoff Collins
Chris Wilson
Returning Starters Offense 8, Defense 7
2010 Season 9-4 (4-4 SEC)
2010 Final AP Rank 15
2010 Rushing Offense 16 (2)
2010 Passing Offense 86 (9)
2010 Total Offense 42 (5)
2010 Rushing Defense 15 (4)
2010 Passing Defense 91 (9)
2010 Total Defense 49 (8)
 
2011 Schedule
Sept. 1 at Memphis
Sept. 10 at Auburn
Sept. 15 LSU
Sept. 24 Louisana Tech
Oct. 1 at Georgia
Oct. 8 at Alabama-Brimingham
Oct. 15 South Carolina
Oct. 29 at Kentucky
Nov. 5 Tennessee-Martin
Nov. 12 Alabama
Nov. 19 at Arkansas
Nov. 26 Mississippi
 
ANALYSIS: A very manageable out-of-conference schedule eases the sting of a typically brutal SEC slate. Can the Bulldogs upset one of the big boys in Starkville?
 
Depth Chart
OFFENSE
QB Chris Relf Tyler Russell
RB Vick Ballard Ladarius Perkins
WR Arceto Clark Michael Carr
WR Chad Bumphis Brandon Heavens
WR Chris Smith Ricco Sanders
TE Marcus Green Kendrick Cook
LT James Carmon Blaine Clausell
LG Gabe Jackson Templeton Hardy
C Quentin Saulsberry Dillon Day
RG Tobias Smith Damien Robinson
RT Addison Lawrence Archie Muniz
DEFENSE
DE Sean Ferguson Corvell Harrison-Gay
DT Josh Boyd Kaleb Eulls
DT Fletcher Cox Devin Jones
DE Trevor Stigers Shane McCardell
LB Chris Hughes Deonte Skinner
LB Brandon Wilson Brandon Maye
LB Cameron Lawrence Matthew Wells
CB Johnthan Banks Marvin Bure
S Charles Mitchell Jay Hughes
S Wade Bonner Nickoe Whitley
CB Corey Broomfield Damien Anderson
SPECIAL TEAMS
K Derek Depasquale Brian Egan
P Baker Swendenberg Josh Morris
KR Ladarius Perkins Chad Bumphis
PR Chad Bumphis Ladarius Perkins
SCOUTING REPORT
After Mississippi State finished the 2010 season by bludgeoning Michigan in the Gator Bowl and landing the No. 15 spot in the final AP poll, coach Dan Mullen feared his team might not understand that it now had to work harder to maintain a lofty ranking than it had to attain one. Then Mullen realized he could eliminate complacency by reminding the Bulldogs to check the '10 SEC West standings instead of that national poll. "Fifth place is not where we want to be," Mullen says. "Our goal is to win the SEC West. We're pretty far from that."

In any other league Mississippi State would be on the short list of title contenders. In the SEC West, where Alabama and LSU probably will start 2011 in the top five nationally and Arkansas in the top 15, the Bulldogs face a steep climb.

To keep his players on edge, Mullen will conduct competition for jobs into the preseason. Even QB Chris Relf, who seemed to solidify his starting slot with excellent games against Arkansas, Ole Miss and Michigan to close 2010, isn't safe: Mullen says Tyler Russell and Dylan Favre will have a chance to win the job. If Relf does start, Mississippi State will be nearly intact at the skill positions, bringing back its top three rushers (Vick Ballard, Relf and LaDarius Perkins) and top four receivers (Chad Bumphis, Arceto Clark, Brandon Heavens and Chris Smith).

Meanwhile the defense must replace its top two tacklers (linebackers Chris White and K.J. Wright) and its wunderkind co-coordinator, Manny Diaz, whose innovative schemes helped the Bulldogs jump from 71st in the nation in scoring defense in 2009 to 21st in '10. (Diaz left Starkville to become the defensive coordinator at Texas.) Geoff Collins, hired from Florida International to take Diaz's place as linebackers coach and co-coordinator, hopes three productive starters will emerge from a linebacking group that includes junior Cameron Lawrence, senior Brandon Wilson, sophomore Chris Hughes and Clemson transfer Brandon Maye.

The good news is that Collins and his predecessor have similar philosophies, and whenever Collins needs guidance, he calls Diaz. "Within five minutes we're getting everything on the same page," Collins says. "It was an easy, smooth transition." The Bulldogs hope a transition from SEC West also-ran to contender can be equally smooth.

THE BIG IF
Can the inexperienced skill players take another step forward and lift the Bulldogs' point production?

TELLING NUMBER
95.8 -- Avergae yards by which the Bulldogs outrushed opponents in 2010, the second-best differential in the SEC.

KEY RETURNEES
Chad Bumphis, WR, Jr. -- If QB Chris Relf remains as consistent as he was at season's end, Bumphis could well exceed the 634 receiving yards he put up in 2010. The speedy, athletic Bumphis is Mississippi State's top playmaker.

Fletcher Cox, DT, Jr. -- The 6-4, 300-pounder won't rack up a ton of tackles in Mississippi State's defense, but if he does his job, the men behind and around him will. Cox's quickness should force opposing offensive lines to pay so much attention to him that the Bulldogs' linebackers have a chance to make plays.

Charles Mitchell, SS, Sr. -- Mississippi State's top returning tackler (93 in 2010) will also be a captain this season, and he anchors one of the SEC's most experienced secondaries.

Chris Relf, QB, Sr. -- Relf came into his own during the Bulldogs' final three games in 2010, completing 51 of 73 passes for 793 yards and six touchdowns with just two interceptions (182.8 passer rating). During the same span he averaged 66.3 rushing yards per game.

Vick Ballard, RB, Sr. -- The juco transfer burst onto the scene last season, piling up 968 rushing yards on 5.2 yards per carry. With 19 touchdowns on 186 carries, he scored on more than 10 percent of his runs last season.

BREAKOUT PLAYER
Cameron Lawrence, LB, Jr. -- As a freshman in 2009, Lawrence practiced at quarterback, receiver, safety and linebacker. He settled in at outside linebacker as a sophomore, but he spent the season as a backup. Mississippi State's most versatile athlete, the 6-2, 225-pound Lawrence will be a starter this season. Expect him to show that linebacker is where he belongs.

TOP RECRUIT
Dee Arrington, DB, Fr. -- This 6-2, 210-pounder from Wiggins, Miss., was a Parade All-America selection who made 121 tackles as a senior at Stone High. Lining up at running back, Arrington rushed for 1,105 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2010.

This team preview originally appeared in Sports Illustrated Presents' SEC Preview.
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