Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mississippi State Preview: Can Dan Mullen Lead the Bulldogs To A Bowl Game?

Head Coach Dan Mullen begins year two in Starkville looking to elevate the program to the next level with a bowl game at the end of the season.

His first season had to be a success with an increase in the win total and most importantly a win over Ole Miss or "the school up north" as Mullen calls it.

But can the Bulldogs rebuild their offensive scheme without all-time leading rusher Anthony Dixon? What about the new hire at Defensive Coordinator? And who is this Favre guy on the team?

To get a better look at Miss. State, I contacted For Whom The Cowbell Tolls for their insight.

Q: Usually you see the most improvement in a program from year one to year two under a coach. How much better will Miss State be in year two under Dan Mullen?

A: I think his system will be more in place. It will be difficult adjusting for the loss of playmakers like Anthony Dixon on offense and Jamar Chaney on defense, but I think we have some players in the pipe that will fill in nicely.

Q: Who is going to win the QB battle? And how much platooning will Mullen do?

A: The biggest question right now is at quarterback. We have Chris Relf, who has some experience playing from last year and is a running style (Tebow-style, if you will) quarterback that has decent speed for breaking out of the pocket and making plays happen.

Tyler Russell is the red-shirt freshman that everyone expects to do great things, but he is more of a pocket passer. Then you have Dylan Favre (the nephew of a certain NFL quarterback) who certainly has the swagger of a top-level QB, but can he back it up on the field in the SEC?

I think you will see Relf start for the first game, and if we get far enough ahead in some games, Russell will get some looks under center. I can see Favre being a worst-case scenario and saving his red-shirt for next year.

Q: Will it be one guy or a committee of running backs to try and fill the void left by the departure of all time leading rusher Anthony Dixon?

A: I think it will be committee. You can't replace a player like Anthony Dixon. He was the heart and soul of the offense, if not the entire team, last year. In his place, you will see junior Robert Elliott, JUCO transfer Vic Ballard and possibly a freshman or red-shirt freshman or two.

Q: Do the Bulldogs have any difference makers at wideout to take the pressure of a young QB?

A: If Chris Relf is our starter, then we won't really be that young at QB. In any case, Chad Bumphis is a sophomore that made some great contributions to the team as a freshman last year and has the speed and ability to really break out this year.

In addition to Bumphis, you have Brandon Heavens, Leon Berry and Chris Smith. No doubt we are still thin at the wideout position, but the recent NCAA clearance of freshman receiver Michael Carr should help us out there.

Q: The offensive line paved the way for nearly 5 yards per carry last year. Can they continue to be difference maker this year?

A: I think so. Many have said that we will have one of the OLs in the SEC this year, and players like Derek Sherrod, Quentin Saulsberry and J.C. Brignone will be ready to open the gaps for the backs or protect the pocket when needed.

Q: What style does new Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz bring to Starkville?

A: I think Diaz will really compliment Mullen. He is very high energy and uses an attacking style defense to keep the offense off balance. He also returns a good staple of players from last year, including Pernell McPhee and K.J. Wright.

Q: Miss State has just 37 sacks over the last two years. How are the Bulldogs going to get more pressure on the QB?

A: I think the style of defense will be key, as well as the line playing well.

Q: How did the tradition of cowbells start in Starkville?

A: There are many stories, but the accepted origin is as follows: sometime in the early 1930s, Mississippi State (then A & M) were playing Ole Miss in Starkville when a jersey cow wondered onto the field. State ended up beating Ole Miss and the fans started bringing the cow to all home games. Eventually, the just started bringing a cowbell, and the rest is history.

Q: Who are some of the freshman that are likely to contribute?

A: I think you will see Tyler Russell (RS) contribute under center at some point. At running back, we will depend on LaDarius Perkins (RS) and Nick Griffin (TFr) to help carry the load. You could even see Dylan Favre (TFr) at some point during the season.

Q: Has Mullen endeared himself to fans with his tweaking of "the school up North" comments?

A: Yeah, everyone loves it. Especially now that the players are using it too. It helps to strengthen the rival and get the fans behind the team. Video of Mullen After 2009 Egg Bowl

Q: Describe a successful season. Describe a disappointing one.

A: I think a successful season is 7-8 wins and a trip to a bowl game. We have the chance to get an 8 win season, and even surprise a team or two. A disappointing season will be anything less than what we accomplished last year. Progress is always the key.

Q: What is your prediction for this season?

A: Likely wins: Memphis, Alcorn State, Houston, UAB, Ole Miss, Kentucky. Likely Losses: Alabama, Arkansas. Toss-ups: UGA, Auburn, LSU, Florida

My Take on Mississippi State...
Miss State is one of those teams I think may play a lot better in year two, but I am not sure how much better their record will be.

The schedule is brutal having to play Georgia and Florida from the East. In the West they have to go to Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge as well as Oxford who won't be throwing out the welcome mat after last year.

If Mullen can find a QB to run his offense effectively, they may not miss Dixon that much.

Defensively, Diaz was bantered around for higher profile jobs than Miss State so I think he will continue the tradition of good defenses in Starkville. I know UGA fans liked him too.

I see Miss State finishing last in the West, the toughest division in college football this season, but still good enough to garner a bowl bid.

Prediction:
6-6, 6th SEC West

Thanks again to For Whom The Cowbell Tolls for their insight.

Previous SEC Previews:
Vanderbilt
Kentucky
Georgia
LSU
Tennessee
South Carolina

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