The Mississippi State Bulldogs check in at No. 31 in the Rant Sports Top 100 College Football Rankings, hoping to take the next step into a contender’s role in the Southeastern Conference’s Western Division.
Head coach Dan Mullen returns for his fifth season in Starkville after an 8-5 record in 2012. Overall, Mullen has posted a 29-22 record at MSU, and he hopes that the program can become a regular near the top of the SEC West standings.
The 2012 season could have been the best for Mullen during his tenure in Starkville. The Bulldogs started 7-0 and were ranked nationally before falling on hard times, losing five of their last six games.
Quarterback Tyler Russell returns to lead the offense again this season, after passing for 2,897 yards and 24 touchdowns last season. The fifth-year senior will be counted on to lead the offense, but one of the big questions for MSU is, who will catch the ball for the Bulldogs? Robert Johnson, Jameon Lewis and Joe Marrow are among the primary candidates, along with tight end Malcolm Johnson.
The running game will be solid, as senior LaDarius Perkins returns after a big season in 2012. Perkins carried the ball 205 times last year for 1,024 yards and eight touchdowns. He also caught 19 passes for 160 yards and two more scores. Expect Perkins to touch the ball a lot again this season, because the formula certainly worked last year.
The offensive line will also be a strong unit for MSU. Four starters return from last season’s team. Left guard Gabe Jackson, center Dillon Day and right tackle Charles Siddoway figure to be solid. Left tackle Blaine Clausell is a returning starter, but he struggled against some of the better outside rushers in the SEC last season. His improvement could help propel the Bulldogs’ passing game.
The defense is an area of concern for Mississippi State in 2013. Six starters return for the Bulldogs, but there are spots where inexperience could be a factor this season.
On the defensive line, tackle Kaleb Eulls returns to the starting lineup, after starting at end last season. Eulls seemed to like the move during spring drills. Also on the line, Denico Autry is back, after posting a pair of sacks last season.
The linebackers should be the best defensive unit for MSU in 2013. All three starters return, including the leading tackler from last season, middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney. Outside linebackers Matt Wells and Deontae Skinner are also back in the fold.
Mullen and his staff hope that the inexperienced secondary won’t be exposed in 2013. The only returning starter is free safety Nickoe Whitley. Among those trying to fill the other spots are Justin Cox, Jay Hughes and Jamerson Love.
As with most teams in the SEC, the schedule is very tough. MSU opens with a neutral site game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in Houston. After that, the Bulldogs host Alcorn State, the Auburn Tigers and Troy.
Mississippi State closes the season by visiting the Arkansas Razorbacks before hosting its arch rival, the Ole Miss Rebels in the Egg Bowl. The Bulldogs may need to win one of those games to get to six wins and to become bowl eligible.