Spring lookahead: Mississippi State Bulldogs
Despite making great strides early in his tenure and reenergizing a dejected fan base, head coach Dan Mullen may have hit the Starkville ceiling, that invisible barrier that keeps Mississippi State from breaking through to the top echelon of the SEC. The Bulldogs 8-5 record last year wasn't terrible, but one victory came against an FCS school (Jackson State), another against an undersized team from the Sunbelt Conference (Troy), and two more came at the expense of directional schools (South Alabama and Middle Tennessee). State's four conference wins were against teams that had a combined record of 14-34. All four of those schools fired their head coaches before Christmas.
Losing the Egg Bowl to Ole Miss and the Gatorbowl to Northwestern left a sour taste in the mouths of many die-hard Bulldog fans. Throw in the fact that Hugh Freeze raised eyebrows nationally with Ole Miss's 2013 recruiting class and Mullen finds himself in a spot where he needs to turn up the intensity. That quest begins this spring.
2012 Record: 8-5 (4-4 SEC)
Spring Schedule: The annual Spring Game will be held April 20 at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville.
Last Year: The Bulldogs played their way into a top-15 ranking behind quarterback Tyler Russell and an impressive offense. But a 38-7 shellacking by Alabama began a three-game losing streak with the Bulldogs also falling to Texas A&M and LSU. In the five games State lost, Russell threw nine interceptions and only five touchdowns, a ratio that will have to improve if Mullen hopes to contend in the SEC West.
The Biggest Hole to Fill: Without question the biggest loss will be the cornerbacks Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay. Banks is considered one of the top corners in this year's NFL draft and one of the best coverage men in the SEC for the last two seasons. Slay isn't far behind. They leave huge holes in the secondary and big opportunities for guys like Jamerson Love and Taveze Calhoun to prove themselves.
One to Watch: Tyler Russell's progression could be a barometer for the fall, but equally as important will be the guys on the receiving end of his passes. Wide receiver Jeremey Chappelle from Tyler (Texas) Junior College is suiting up for the spring, as is Artimus Samuel, a 6'2", 227-pound tight end from Hargrave Military Academy in Georgia. How those players fit into the spring scheme will say a lot about the Bulldogs offense for 2013.