Top 5 Storylines for Mississippi State Bulldogs 2013 Spring Game

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Dan Mullen Continues Mississippi State Resurgence

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Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Mississippi State started the 2012 season with seven consecutive wins and surged to the No. 11 spot in the top 25 rankings, but then after a loss to eventual national champion Alabama, the train fell off the tracks a bit for Dan Mullen’s team as they finished with an 8-5 record.

As the Bulldogs prepare to play their annual Maroon and White game from Davis-Wade Stadium this Saturday one question stands out among the rest. Will the fans flocking to Starkville see a team that will be reminiscent of the one that started off 7-0, or a team that limped to the finish line with a 1-5 finish?

Mullen has led the program to a resurgence since taking over in 2009 for Sylvester Croom and after a 5-7 first season has averaged eight wins, including a nine-win campaign in 2011, and has been to three consecutive bowl games. However, that bad taste from the disappointing showing in the second half of 2012 and subsequent below par showing in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl has been the motivation this offseason.

Competing in the loaded SEC west is a daunting challenge for State and they have had to fight for respect and continually try to prove the skeptics wrong. For the better part of the last three seasons many have said Mullen’s teams have overachieved and they are waiting for the team to come back down to Earth, but Mullen has kept his team afloat

Mullen has endeared himself to the “Hail State” community with the success of his team’s the last three years, but this may be his biggest test yet. These are the five key players and storylines I will be monitoring on Saturday.

Patrick is a college football writer for Rant Sports and radio host on Sportstownchicago.com. Follow him on Twitter and add him to your Google network.

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5. LaDarius Perkins is the SEC's Most Underrated Player

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Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

LaDarius Perkins is coming off a breakout 2012 season after rushing for 1,016 yards and eight touchdowns in his first year as the feature back. Playing in the shadows to Anthony Dixon and Vick Ballard his first two years on campus, Perkins proved to be one of the best backs in the conference. Yet he remains an under-appreciated talent across the conference, but that can quickly change if he makes a similar leap in production as he did from 2011 to 2012.

When Perkins is good, the Bulldogs are really good. He scored all eight of his touchdowns during his team’s seven-game winning streak to start the season, and had five-100 yard games in that span. However, when defenses were able to get him out of the end zone, the offense faltered and was 0-4 in games he didn’t enter the end zone. Feeding him the ball is imperative this season.

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4. Who Replaces Chad Bumphis as the No. 1 Wide Receiver?

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Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Getting the ball to Perkins is imperative because the complete overhaul at the wide receiver and tight end positions where the top four receivers are gone from a year ago. The biggest absence is without a doubt from Chad Bumphis who led the conference with 12 touchdown receptions last season. Including tight end Marcus Green’s six touchdowns and that’s a lot of production that has to be replaced.

Robert Johnson, Joe Morrow and Jameon Lewis will be the first three to step up and fill the void as well as 6-2, 215-pound junior college transfer Jeremy Chappelle before a glut freshmen receiver recruits arrive this summer. At tight end, Malcolm Johnson has incredible amounts of potential, but thus far has been unrealized. This year could be the time he finally puts it all together.

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3. Tyler Russell Looks for Consistency

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Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Tyler Russell hopes that some of those players emerge this spring and can be trusted weapons in the passing game. To this point in spring he has been trying to establish chemistry and get on the same page with his inexperienced receivers. Russell is coming off a season in which he set school records in touchdowns (24) and yards (2,897), but after throwing only one interception during the seven-game winning streak, he threw nine in the team’s final six including four in the bowl defeat. Russell can set more school records this season and be one of their best quarterbacks in program history. However, State needs Russell to play with more consistency, especially against elite competition, and be the leader on this team.

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2. Who Fills Leadership Void Left by Cam Lawrence?

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Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

The leadership of Russell is essential for the Bulldogs because they lose linebacker Cam Lawrence who led both by example on the field but was also one of the team’s vocal leaders in the locker room. He led the team with 120 tackles en route to being named to the All-SEC second team, but his absence on the defense will be softened with six of the seven top linebackers returning. However, when things turn sour and you're faced with a crucial third down it’s a big unknown right now who will step up and replace that void left by Lawrence.

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1. Replacing a Depleted Secondary

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Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

One of the Bulldog defenders that can help fill the leadership void is Nickoe Whitley who is the lone holdover from last year’s secondary which was led by the best cornerback duo in the nation. Thorpe award winner Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay combined for nine interceptions and should be among the first taken at their position in the NFL draft next week. Corey Broomfield is also gone from one of the safety spots, so Whitley will be the quarterback of this defense who should be a high pick in next year’s draft.

Of the players that can step in at cornerback are Taveze Calhoun, Jamerson Love, Kendrick Market. Each of the three has seen spot duty in the secondary during their careers, but it’s JUCO transfer Justin Cox who could be the real playmaker in the secondary. At 6-3, 190-pounds he has similar length of Banks and perhaps better speed, but depending on how quick he picks up the defense could be a valuable member of Geoff Collins’ defense.

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