By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: The 2009 campaign marked the beginning of a new era in Starkville, as Dan Mullen took over as head coach of the Mississippi State football team. Mullen, a former Florida assistant, inherited a team that
had endured multiple seasons as an SEC afterthought, so there was much work to
After beating up on Jackson State as expected in the opener, the Bulldogs
opened league play against Auburn on September 12th. Unfortunately, that game
didn't go as planned, as the result was a 49-29 beating at the hands of the
Tigers. To the credit of Mullen and his players, they regrouped and beat
Vanderbilt the following week by a 15-3 final in what was the club's best
defensive effort of the season. Then came the longest losing skid of the
campaign, a three-game drought that saw the Bulldogs fall to LSU, Georgia Tech
and Houston despite being competitive in all of those contests. Over the final
six games of the season, the Bulldogs managed three victories, including a 14-
point triumph over rival Ole Miss in the finale.
Unfortunately, Mississippi State failed to qualify for the postseason, falling
one victory shy. Still, there is reason for optimism among the team's fanbase,
as it appears that Mullen is the right man to lead the Bulldogs back to
OFFENSE: Junior quarterback Chris Relf is the man under center, and coach
Mullen has seen a major change for the better in the young passer.
"You're dealing with a completely different player," says Mullen of Relf. "A
lot of our players are that way. They know the commitment it's going to take
for them to be great and to play at the level they need to play at for us to
be on a championship level, that is the critical thing."
Last season, Relf didn't throw the ball much, attempting only 41 passes, but
he did rush for 500 yards and two scores on 76 carries. Should he prove
incapable of leading the team to victory, Relf will be replaced by highly
touted freshman Tyler Russell, a 6-5 signal caller.
The Bulldogs led the SEC in rushing last season with 227.6 ypg, but the key to
that success was tailback Anthony Dixon, who is no longer on the team. Expect
Robert Elliott and Vick Ballard, a pair of juniors, to battle for carries
The top returning receiver is Chad Bumphis, who made 32 catches as a freshman.
The strength of the offense figures to be the line, which brings back four
starters. The best of the bunch is Derek Sherrod, an All-SEC performer at left
DEFENSE: MSU ranked 11th in the SEC in scoring defense a year ago (26.8 ppg)
and 10th in total defense (366.0 ypg), and with only five starters back from
that unit, there isn't a ton of reason to believe that a major turnaround is
imminent. Carl Torbush didn't work out as defensive coordinator, and he has
been replaced by Manny Diaz and Chris Wilson.
Chris White moves to middle linebacker this season, and he will almost
certainly post more than the 75 tackles he registered a year ago. At 6-4 and
245 pounds, White packs a punch when he hits opposing ball carriers. He is
joined in the linebacking corps by K.J. Wright, who had 82 stops a year ago.
In the defensive backfield, both starting safeties are back. Charles Mitchell
and Johnathan Banks will have to help out the new starting corners, including
Corey Broomfield, who recorded six interceptions a year ago as a freshman.
The defensive line is definitely an area of concern, as only Pernell McPhee
returns as a starter. Still, the attacking approach of the linebackers should
help create a consistent pass rush.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The special teams unit figure to be strong, especially with
punter Heath Hutchins and placekickers Derek DePasquale and Sean Brauchle back
in place. Bumphis is a dangerous returner who should shine as a sophomore.
OUTLOOK: "They're not just going to play hard and battle teams for four
quarters, they're going to find a way to win games and get us to championship
level this season," says an optimistic Mullen of his players.
The schedule features road games at Florida and Alabama, which will almost
certainly be losses, and a September 18th road clash with LSU will be tough as
well. Still, few would be surprised if Mississippi State earns a bowl bid this