The optimism of Sunday’s Bowl Selection swiftly turned into disappointment early in the afternoon as Twitter leaked word that the Big Ten had intercepted Northwestern’s purported path to the Capitol One Bowl to protect Nebraska from falling too far on the bowl pecking order for its conference championship game loss. The SEC followed suit in propping up Georgia after losing to Alabama in last night’s de facto national championship game play-in. It was a shocking turn of events for Northwestern fans prematurely planning their trips to Disney World, and for a team that finished the season with considerable momentum – a stark contrast to the humiliation of Nebraska’s 70-31 obliteration at Lucas Oil Stadium. one ofInstead, the Wildcats will travel to Jacksonville to take on Mississippi State. We’ll have more in-depth preview coverage over the next month, but we’re laying out the basics four weeks in advance.
When Mississippi State traveled to Tuscaloosa on October 27 to take on Alabama, the Bulldogs were undefeated and ranked 11th in the BCS Standings and 13th in the AP Poll. The biggest reason for their early rise up the national ranks was the schedule. Mississippi State’s toughest opponent through the first seven weeks Tennessee, who finished the season with a 5-7 record, only one SEC win and a head coaching vacancy. So when the Bulldogs walked into Bryant-Denny Stadium for their spotlight game, they weren’t exactly battle-tested. Alabama quickly delegitimized Mississippi State’s 7-0 start by blowing out Dan Mullen’s team, 38-7. Any hope that Mississippi State could challenge Alabama or LSU (at that point, Texas A&M had yet to establish itself as a division contender) at the top of arguably the best division in all of college football was left behind on the Tide's home turf. The Bulldogs didn't just lose their pristine record.
That was the turning point in Mississippi State’s season. The Bulldogs lost their next two games against Texas A&M and LSU by a combined score of 75-21. Hope was restored, if only for a week, with a convincing win over Arkansas (45-14), but Dan Mullen’s team cratered any sense of optimism the following week by getting boatraced in the Egg Bowl rivalry game – the annual matchup with Mississippi. The Rebels thrashed Mississippi State, 41-24, a fitting end to a disappointing season. It wasn’t all terrible – the Bulldogs did open up 7-0 and nearly cracked the top-10 of the BCS, however favorable its schedule – but given their record on October 20, settling for eight wins is a massive letdown.
Players to Watch
Johnthan Banks (Senior, cornerback)
As NFL draft prospects go, Banks ranks near or at the top of most every DB list for this year’s class. He draws the opponent’s best receiver every week and normally shuts down or severely limits that top target for large stretches. Banks is tied for sixth in the SEC with 11 passes defended and his four interceptions ranks second league-wide. Those numbers aren’t all too impressive, but Banks doesn’t get nearly the same number of opportunities as other DBs to rack up gaudy statistics. Most quarterbacks just avoid Banks altogether. He’s that good. ESPN Scouts INC ranks Banks 31st on its 2013 Draft Big board. Check out his draft profile.
LaDarius Perkins (Junior, runningback)
When you watch Perkins run, it’s hard to go more than five minutes without developing the urge to compare him to a bowling ball. At 5-10, 190 pounds, Perkins carries low to the ground, gets below pad level and punishes tacklers at the end of plays. He needs just 60 yards to break the 1,000-yard threshold this season, and while his pace has slowed in recent weeks, Perkins is fully capable of ripping off a 100 + yard game. If Perkins gets going, the Bulldogs can put up points in a hurry. It is no coincidence that every time Perkins rushed for more than 90 yards this season, his team ended up winning.
Tyler Russell (Junior, quarterback)
It is no surprise that Mississippi State averages more than 32 passing attempts per game. For one, quarterback guru and Urban Meyer disciple Dan Mullen calls the plays. Mullen hangs his hat on quarterback development and passing-game ingenuity. More importantly, Mullen trusts Russell with the ball in his hands. Though Russell has attempted the fourth-most passes in the conference (366), he’s completing them at a merely mediocre 59.8 percentage. The Bulldogs are not an explosive offense, and part of that falls on Russell, but the junior has developed a nice rapport with receiver Chad Bumphis, who has 940 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns on the season. Russell won’t wow you with touch or accuracy, but he’s an excellent deep-ball thrower and is effective when zipping passes into tight windows.
Your Mississippi State Information Hub
The SEC is a foreign landscape. Mississippi State is one of the more low-profile teams in that league; I can’t pretend to know everything about the Bulldogs. To quench your thirst for Bulldogs-centric info, we’ve compiled a selection of useful sites and blogs to guide you through the month-long waiting process.
Missippi State’s SB Nation blog: “For Whom the Cowbell Tolls”
The Dawg Walk – “Your Source For the Latest on MSU Sports”
Mississippi State’s Scout affiliate: Gene’spage.com (powered by DawgsBite magazine)
Message board chatter! – Six Pack Speak