Mississippi State finished the 2012 season 8–5, 4–4 in SEC play to finish in fourth place in the SEC West. Head coach Dan Mullen and the Bulldogs began spring practice yesterday, March 20, and will conclude with the annual Maroon-White Spring Game on April 20 as part of Super Bulldog Weekend. Josh at For Whom The Cowbell Tolls provided us with some great information for our Mississippi State 2013 spring preview.
Going into the 2012 season, most State fans were looking at an 8-4 record as a success. Some hoped for 9-3, but by and large 8-4 would have been perfectly acceptable. But after the 8-4 season which we had, a lot of folks were upset.
Auburn, Tennessee and Arkansas were expected to be swing games, but those teams turned out to have awful years. Texas A&M was another swing game (heading into the season) but Johnny Football was on fire and we got blown out.
Then the one that hurt the most was Ole Miss – a program we thought we had on the ropes and in no way, shape or fashion did we think about the possibility of losing that game in the summer.
Add to it that all four losses were in the last five games and all of them by at least 17 points, it was a bitter pill to swallow. Then a horrible bowl game vs. Northwestern, and that 8-5 record doesn’t look too good when you never beat a bowl team.
More specifically, the defensive line was probably the biggest disappointment. Despite losing 1st round draft pick Fletcher Cox, MSU fans expected a better showing in that unit because of the talented depth. In the end, that talent was probably too young, and they struggled a lot. Add to it questionable defensive schemes (which got the DC fired), and it wasn’t pretty at times.
On a positive note, MSU had it’s best passing season in school history behind Tyler Russell. We expected him to break records and he did – pretty much every single one.
The O-line will return the entire 2-deep from a pretty good group last year. They are led by All-SEC left guard Gabe Jackson, and I look for this group to be the anchor the offense and be one of the best in the SEC.
At QB, Tyler Russell returns for his second year as the starter, so he’ll just have that much more experience. Looking around the SEC, Russell could be as good as the 4th best QB behind Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray and A.J. McCarron. Dak Prescott will back him up after seeing some action as a redshirt freshman.
MSU returns their entire running back corp from last year. LaDarius Perkins will be a senior, and most likely get the lion’s share of the carries again. Nick Griffin looked to have an even bigger role as a junior in 2013 but he had his 2nd major knee injury during bowl practice so he may be limited and we could even see him sit out the entire year looking for a medical redshirt.
But there are two sophomores: Josh Robinson and Derrick Milton who showed some flashes at redshirt freshman in 2012. I’m a little more impressed with Robinson who is described by most as a “bowling ball”…but both will be solid backs and provide plenty of depth.
I mentioned the D-line being a weakness in 2012, but I’m hoping they will continue to grow and improve and not be a liability in 2013 – there are actually (4) 4-stars and (3) 5-stars coming out of high school on this unit. The weaknesses I think are at wide receiver and the secondary.
MSU loses their top four receivers, and several of them were 4-year starters. Last year’s record-breaking season had 90% of the receiving yards returning from 2011, but this year it will only be 25%.
There is a lot of expectation for Joe Morrow who will be a redshirt sophomore – he only had 5 catches in ’12, but most folks thought it would be a lot more. Same holds true for Jameon Lewis in the slot.
Two emerging players are WR Robert Johnson and TE Malcolm Johnson. I look for those two to be on the field a lot. There is also some talk of true freshman signee Fred Ross getting on the field, but he won’t be there for spring practice.
In the secondary, MSU will lose the Jim Thorpe Award winner, Johnthan Banks. He is likely to be a 1st round draft pick and on the other side Darius Slay graduates as well, and some are projecting him to be as high as a 2nd-3rd round draft pick.
In addition to that, Corey Broomfield, a four year starter, leaves – he played safety in 2012 after three years a CB. Those three players had 10 INTs between them last year.
So right now MSU is left with only Nickoe Whitley as a returning starter, and losing a bunch of talent.
Four-star juco safety Justin Cox will have to step in for sure, and we are still waiting on safety Dee Arrington – a highly touted recruit to step into a bigger role as he enters his junior year.
There are some other players who we’ve heard will be good at corner like Will Redmond, Tavese Calhoun and Cedric Jiles, but we’ll see…and you just aren’t going to replace big time players like Banks and Slay overnight unless you’re Alabama or LSU.
Competing in the SEC West is tough. The 2012 Mississippi State season was a perfect example of where the Bulldogs have been for the last three years — a good team that isn’t quite good enough to compete in the upper echelon of the division.
Add to that the arrival of Texas A & M into the division and the one-two combination of losing to Ole Miss last year and than watching the Rebels land a top-10 recruiting class in February, and being a solid 7 or 8 win team may be the best the Bulldogs can shoot for in the foreseeable future.
For more Mississippi State football analysis and commentary you can follow Josh on Twitter @CroomDiaries.