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NCAA Football Mississippi State BulldogsSEC Football

Mississippi State Football: State of the Program

Mississippi State

Mark Zerof -USA TODAY Sports

The 2012 season of Mississippi State was really a tale of two seasons in one up-and-down campaign for Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs.

Taking advantage of a soft early slate of games the Bulldogs started out 7-0, but when they started facing stiff SEC competition saw their dreams of the school’s first 10-win season in more than a decade fade away. The regular season came to an end with a 17-point loss to Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, losing for the first time to their in-state rival under Mullen.

Despite the rocky finish to the regular season that saw four losses in the final five games, the Bulldogs were chosen to play in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl vs. Northwestern. However, the team was unable to find their early season form and lost for the fifth time in six games after quarterback Tyler Russell threw four interceptions after being one of the least intercepted quarterbacks during the regular season.

This year was full of bright sports and the program is one that is clearly on the rise. Playing in the competitive SEC west division is full of its challenges, but this year’s senior class was the winningest class in program history in more than a decade. Wide receiver Chad Bumphis led the conference in touchdown receptions, cornerback Johnthan Banks won the Thorpe award as the nation’s best defensive back and guard Gabe Jackson was named an All-American.  Furthermore, State is also one of eight schools to be guaranteed of having a former player win a Super Bowl ring this season.

Banks will be a first-round pick in the NFL draft this April and Bumphis was named the MVP in the East-West Shrine Game. While those two seniors leave for the next level along with top players Cam Lawrence, Darius Slay and Josh Boyd, the door is open for the next crop of recruits to fill the void.

State’s top recruit is Chris Jones, who ranks No. 46 according to ESPN and the No. 6 defensive end and could step into a starter’s role as a true freshman–if he remains committed. Jones is thinking about taking visits to Alabama, Ole Miss and Auburn. Other top recruits include athlete Ashton Shumpert, junior-college wide receiver Jeremy Chappelle and dual-threat quarterback Cord Sandberg.

On the coaching front, Defensive coordinator Chris Wilson left to take a job with Georgia and Mullen promoted Geoff Collins after serving as co-coordinator with Wilson along with coaching the linebackers. Deshea Townshend is the new defensive backs coach and David Turner returns to Starkville to coach the defensive line.

With a coaching shake-up, losing some key performers of the 2012 team, losing five of the last six games and that ridiculously challenging SEC schedule presents a tall order for Mullen and the Bulldogs in 2013. Mullen is still in search of a signature win and he will have a number of opportunities next season in what could be the biggest test since his first season in Starkville.

Bottom line: in order to make it back to a bowl game for the fourth straight year, the Bulldogs absolutely must win at least one game against one of the heavyweights in the conference, and when that happens you better believe you’ll be hearing cowbells ringing all across the Magnolia State.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickASchmidt

Patrick is the host of “The Wake-up Call,” on Sportstownchicago.com airing Wednesday mornings from 8-10. View his show’s website here.