2010 NCAA Football Preview: Mississippi State Bulldogs

2009 Record: 5-7 (3-5 in SEC)
2009 Bowl: None
Final 2009 AP Ranking: Not Ranked
Head Coach: Dan Mullen (5-7 Overall)
Non-Conference Schedule: Memphis (9/4), Alcorn State (10/2), at Houston (10/9), UAB (10/23)

2009 Offensive Statistics
Scoring: 25.6 points per game (9th in SEC)
Rushing Yards/Game: 224 (1st in SEC, 9th in Nation)
Passing Yards/Game: 143 (11th in SEC)
Total Yards/Game: 367 (7th in SEC)

2009 Defensive Statistics
Scoring: 26.8 points per game (11th in SEC)
Rushing Yards/Game: 146 (7th in SEC)
Passing Yards/Game: 220 (11th in SEC)
Total Yards/Game: 366 (10th in SEC)

2009 Misc Stats
Turnover Margin: -0.42 per game (10th in SEC)
Penalties: 44 yards per game (5th in SEC)

Returning Starters
Offense: 7
Defense: 7
Kicker/Punter: 2

Top Returning Statistical Leaders
Passing: QB Chris Relf, Jr (22 of 41 for 283 yds, 5 TD, 3 INT)
Rushing: QB Chris Relf, Jr (76 carries for 500 yds, 2 TD, 6.5 ypc)
Receiving: WR Chad Bumphis, Soph (32 rec, 375 yds, 4 TD, 2.7 rec/game)
Tackles: LB K.J. Wright, Sr (81); LB Chris White, Sr (75)
Sacks: DE Pernell McPhee, Sr (5)
Interceptions: CB Corey Broomfield, Soph (6)

2010 Pre-Season Rankings
Athlon Sports: #54
Pre-Snap Read: #73
Sporting News: #59

2010 Pre-Season SEC West Prediction:
Athlon Sports: #6
Phil Steele: #6
Sports Illustrated: #6

Dan Mullen went 5-7 in his debut season at Mississippi State but came away with some good wins against Ole Miss and Kentucky and fought hard in games against Florida and LSU among others. This is the second year in Mullen's system and I think we will continue to see improvement from the Bulldogs. Unfortunately for them the rest of the SEC West seems to have gotten just a bit tougher as well. Mississippi State has an easy out of conference slate with the exception of a re-match against Houston but Mississippi State draws the short end of the stick by playing Florida and Georgia from the SEC East. We caught up with Brad Locke, the Mississippi State Beat Writer for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, to find out his thoughts on Dan Mullens 2010 Mississippi State Bulldogs.

What are the major strengths and biggest weaknesses of the Bulldogs?

Defensively, MSU is pretty strong on the front line, led by senior end Pernell McPhee (12 TFL, 5 sacks). There's good competition at the other spots, with a nice mix of experience and new faces. The cornerbacks have a lot of depth, especially with sophomore Johnthan Banks being moved from safety to corner, his natural position. Offensively, the line has four returning starters and could be one of the best in the SEC. It'll need to be with quarterback and running back position battles that I expect will be waged well into the fall.

What team on the schedule do you fear the most?

Phil Steele ranks MSU's schedule the fourth-toughest in the country, so take your pick. I think the scariest road trip could actually be Houston. If MSU hopes to become bowl-eligible, it cannot lose that game. QB Case Keenum and most of his weapons are back for Houston, and the Cougars beat MSU in Starkville last year.

Who is the best player on your team that nobody talks about?

If you mean national recognition, I might say tight end Marcus Green. He's got tight end size (6'1", 235 pounds), but he's got the athleticism, speed and hands of a receiver. He was second on the team in receiving last year and creates major matchup problems for defenses.

Who is the best offensive player on the team?

Tough call, and I'm tempted to go with left tackle Derek Sherrod. He's certainly the most accomplished and proven player. If you want to talk pure talent, it might be sophomore receiver Chad Bumphis, who led the team in receiving as a true freshman.

Who is the most impactful defensive player on the team?

Definitely Pernell McPhee, the left end. He was impressive last year, but a lot of that was just talent. In new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz's attacking schemes, and with a little polish on him, McPhee should terrify quarterbacks this fall.

What player(s) needs to step up this year in order for the team to reach its full capability?

Whichever quarterback becomes the starter. I think junior Chris Relf will ultimately be the starter - and he's No. 1 on the depth chart right now ahead of redshirt freshman Tyler Russell – and he'll need to show the kind of improved passing in games that he's shown in practices. He does that, and this offense could really take off.

Who is the top offensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

Judging by what I've seen in preseason camp so far, I'd say Jameon Lewis, who's been working at receiver. He's fast, has sweet moves, and could make some plays from the slot position.

Who is the top defensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

James Carmon, a 330-pound junior college transfer, is battling sophomore Josh Boyd for a defensive tackle job. I don't know if he'll beat out Boyd, but Carmon is definitely going to be in the rotation. He's dropped about 45 pounds since enrolling in January, and he should be able to not only eat up blockers, but made plays in the backfield.

Mississippi has a crucial stretch of games early in the season (vs Auburn, at LSU, vs Georgia). How do you think Mississippi State will come out of that stretch?

They'd love to come out of it 2-1, considering two of those games are at home. All three are winnable, but it being that early in the season, I don't know if I can see the Bulldogs doing better than 1-2 in that stretch.

Gut feeling on the teams final record at the end of the regular season and what makes this a successful season in your eyes?

MSU went 5-7 last year, and I foresee another 5-7 finish. But just as last year's record wasn't a true measure of the progress made under Mullen, the same could be said this year. As I said, it's such a tough schedule, but if the QB position becomes stronger and the defense thrives under Diaz – and if, of course, MSU beats Ole Miss again – I think it'll be considered a successful season.

Thanks to Brad for answering our questions. For the inside scoop on Mississippi State football make sure to visit Brad's Inside Mississippi State Sports blog. You can also follow him on twitter @bradlocke.

Previous SEC Previews:
Alabama Crimson Tide
Auburn Tigers
Florida Gators
Georgia Bulldogs
Kentucky Wildcats
LSU Tigers
Mississippi Rebels
South Carolina Gamecocks
Vanderbilt Commodores

Next Up: East Carolina Pirates

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