2010 record: 9-4, 4-4 (5th in SEC West)
2010 bowl: 52-14 win over Michigan in the Gator Bowl
2010 final AP/coaches’ ranking: 15th/17th
Coach: Dan Mullen, third year; 14-11 overall, 7-9 conference
Offensive coordinator: Les Koenning, third year
2010 offensive rankings: 48th, scoring offense (29 ppg); 42nd, total offense (401.3 ypg); 16th, rushing offense (214.9 ypg); 86th, passing offense (186.5 ypg)
Defensive coordinator: Chris Wilson, second year; Geoff Collins, first year
2010 defensive rankings: 21st, scoring defense (19.9 ppg); 49th, total defense (356.9 ypg); 15th, rushing defense (119.1 ypg); 91st, passing defense (237.8 ypg)
Returning offensive starters: 8
Returning defensive starters: 7
Location: Starkville, Ms.
Stadium: Davis Wade Stadium (Grass; 55,082)
Last league title: 1941
2011 schedule: [view]
2011 roster: [view]
2010 statistics: [view]
Snapshot: Fifteen starters returning from a nine-win squad bodes well for the Bulldogs’ chances of building upon 2010 and improving in 2011. Then you realize they are in the toughest division in the best conference in college football, and understand that building on that impressive second-year effort for Dan Mullen & Company will be damn-near Herculean.
The good news, if you want to call it that, is Mississippi State will get Alabama, LSU and South Carolina at home — the bad news, of course, being they have to face those three in any venue. The better (gooder?) news for the Bulldogs is that quarterback Chris Relf showed flashes of being on the verge of a metamorphosis into one of the elite signal callers in the conference. It’s almost a given that the Bulldogs will be able to run the ball well and play defense perhaps even better despite the loss of coordinator Manny Diaz to Texas, thus Mississippi State taking it to the next level may fall squarely on Relf’s right shoulder to do just that.
Too much to place on the plate of a single player in a team game? Perhaps, but that appears to be the reality of where the Bulldogs will be in 2011.
Make-or-break game: Sept. 18 vs. LSU
The Tigers will likely be a Top 5 team entering the season, and — no offense, Auburn — will give Mullen the first real indication three games in as to which direction his squad is headed. Then again, a 22-point loss in Week 3 to the same team last year was followed by six straight wins, so perhaps we’re making more of this game than there really is. Then again, expectations are much higher this year. A loss this early on — especially one of similar margin at home — would be much more “devastating” than the one on the road the year before.
Heisman hopeful: Relf
He’s a quarterback. He’s in the SEC. He plays for a team expected to possibly break through to the periphery of the national scene. Add those three factors up, and it equals the senior’s name likely littering many a preseason Heisman list. How long he remains on the radar, however, remains to be seen and will be determined in large part by their place in the conference pecking order.
Postseason projection: Gator Bowl