Sports

Chris Relf, Mississippi State May Surprise People in 2011

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2010 Season Breakdown

Final record (overall, conference): 9-4, 4-4
Bowl game: None
Final ranking (AP, Coaches’): 15, 17
Conference finish: 5th SEC West
Offensive rank: 42nd
Defensive rank: 49th

2010 Individual Statistics Leaders

Rushing: Vick Ballard, 968 yards, 19 TD
Passing: Chris Relf, 1,789 yards, 13 TD, 6 INT
Receiving: Chad Bumphis, 634 yards, 5 TD
Tackles: Chris White, 110 tackles
Sacks: Chris White, 6 sacks
Interceptions: Johnathan Banks, Corey Broomfield and Nickoe Whitley, 3 INT each (Broomfield, 1 TD)

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2011 Schedule (all games Saturday unless noted)
*denotes conference game

September 1 (Thurs) @ Memphis [8:00 PM ET]
September 10 @ Auburn* [12:21 PM ET, SEC Network]
September 15 (Thurs) vs. LSU* [8:00 PM ET, ESPN]
September 24 vs. Louisiana Tech
October 1 @ Georgia*
October 8 @ UAB [12:00 PM ET]
October 15 vs. South Carolina*
October 29 @ Kentucky*
November 5 vs. Tennessee-Martin
November 12 vs. Alabama*
November 19 @ Arkansas*
November 26 vs. Ole Miss*

Key Matchups

September 15 vs. LSU: The Tigers catch no breaks by heading to Starkville on a Thursday night to take on the Bulldogs. LSU may be in the top five of the preseason rankings, and could be even higher with a win over Oregon in the opener, but don’t make the mistake of writing off the Bulldogs in this whale of a game.

October 1 @ Georgia: This will be a big test for Mississippi State as they travel to Athens to take on a Georgia team that many expect to compete for the SEC East title.

November 26 vs. Ole Miss: The Bulldogs have grabbed the Egg Bowl win in each of the last two seasons. With aspirations for continued improvement, the Bulldogs cannot let this one slip by them in the regular season finale.

Key Departed Players

Brandon Henderson, TE; Derek Sherrod, OT; J.C. Brignone, C; Pernell McPhee, DE; K.J. Wright, LB; Chris White, LB; Emmanuel Gatling, LB

Key Returning Players

Chris Relf, QB; Vick Ballard, RB; Chad Bumphis, WR; Arceto Clark, WR; Quentin Saulsberry, G; Josh Boyd, DT; Fletcher Cox, DT; Corey Broomfield, CB; Johnthan Banks, CB; Charles Mitchell, S

Offensive Overview

Chris Relf will be back at quarterback this season coming off an impressive year in which he was effective moving the ball on the ground, and finished the year with three straight 200-yard passing performances. He’ll have a deep receivers corps with which to work that will include Chad Bumphis and Areceto Clark, who finished first and second in receiving last year. There will be several players contributing in the passing game, though, giving Relf plenty of options. Running back Vick Ballard is another key skill position player who returns in 2011. He rushed for 968 yards last season with 19 touchdowns, and now he’ll aim for another standout year in the backfield. The offensive line loses tackle Derek Sherrod and center J.C. Brignone, and others need to step up to keep the running game operating effectively and to allow Relf time to find his man.

Defensive Overview

Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz left for the Texas DC job, depriving the defense of one of its key figures. Nevertheless, the Bulldogs return a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball, including loads of experience in the secondary. The Bulldogs finished 91st in pass defense last year, but are looking for that to change with the return of Johnthan Banks, Nickoe Whitley, Corey Broomfield and others with starting experience. The defensive line returns tackles Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd, while Sean Ferguson is back at end and Trevor Stigers will look to provide a pass rush on the other side. Stigers could line up with his hand on the ground, or off it like a linebacker.

The linebackers corps, though, loses plenty. Brandon Maye, a three-year starter at Clemson, will play for the Bulldogs in 2011 and is expected to be a contributor, although he’s not guaranteed a starting job just yet. Cameron Lawrence could play a hybrid role, while former safety Matthew Wells is competing for time at outside linebacker. Brandon Wilson is expected to start in the middle in front of Maye, but there will be a rotation of the best six players at the second level according to linebackers coach Geoff Collins.

Top Draft Prospects

Vick Ballard, RB; Quinton Saulsberry, G; Charles Mitchell, S

Season Prediction

4th SEC West

In a lot of other divisions, the Bulldogs would be the preseason favorites, or at least in the top two. In this year’s SEC West, they’re fourth. Key matchups against the SEC elite are going to tell us exactly where the Bulldogs belong, however. The offense returns its leading skill position players, but must fill a few holes along the line of scrimmage. The defense will look to improve in pass defense, but with plenty of experience returning in the secondary, the focus has shifted more to the linebackers corps where all three starters need to be replaced. Nevertheless, Dan Mullen and his coaching staff are working in several players at multiple or hybrid positions and should be effective on the defensive side of the ball, as well as on the offensive side of things.

SEC West Division