To the average college football fan, Mississippi State's 8-4 finish to the 2012 regular season may seem normal, almost disappointing, considering how it finished. But to the Bulldog fan(s) who have endured years of back to back 4-8 seasons and poor offensive play, 2012 was anything but disappointing.
From the individual position perspective, 2012 was no more promising as well as productive this year than the quarterback position; where Mississippi State, for the first time in what seemed like forever, featured a legitimate threat to throw the football and execute a balanced offense outside of just running the football. Those expectations were fulfilled and then some in 2012, as State fans saw Junior Tyler Russell break school passing record after school passing record, on his way to becoming one of the most storied if not the most storied quarterback in our school's history. Although his 2012 season and career are not yet finished, Russell has already done enough in the eyes of many State fans to be considered the greatest to ever play the position in maroon and white, at least in the last decade or two. Let's take a look back and what he and future Bulldog signal caller Dak Prescott were able to accomplish under center (or behind center) this season.
We all expected big things out of Tyler this year, but as State fans well know, Bulldog football and its players don't always live up to what we expect. But Russell was the complete exception to that rule this year, as he not only broke but shattered six single season school passing records, many of which were done with several games to spare. Here's a quick list of the records that he now holds:
- Passing Yards / Season
- Attempts / Season
- Completions / Season
- Completion Percentage / Season
- Touchdowns / Season
- Yards per Game / Season
When you stop and think about how long some of those records have stood - some as long as 25 years - then you truly grasp the magnitude of Russell's accomplishments this season. Sure, State's passing record book won't wow many people compared to other schools, but they were records all the same, and records that until this year had withstood season after season. But they were no match for Russell, who led what many would consider to be the best passing attack in school history this season.
So outside of the records, how would we grade Russell's performance this year? Well, for starters, he was tough in the pocket this fall; taking quite a few hits and holding the ball as long as possible even with pressure constantly coming for him. Tyler did show a tendency to hold the ball a bit too long at times, but some of those times that extra second helped a play develop fully, so I can't fully fault him for that. Russell was streaky at times, but again, I attribute much of that to little protection in some of State's losses, most notably Ole Miss and Texas A&M. Tyler did disappear a bit in some of State's bigger games, but he also performed quite well against LSU, despite other parts of the team not doing so. So I don't think it's fair to say that he performed badly against the good competition and good against the bad competition necessarily. He made the deep passes, and most of the time made the short passes as well. I don't recall an overabundance of times where he overthrew receivers - save the Ole Miss game - but I may be forgetting times as well. It will be interesting to me to see how Tyler performs next season, when his two most sure-handed targets - Chad Bumphis and Chris Smith - have moved on.
Outside of a few small negatives, I really do not have anything but positives to add to Russell's 2012 season. He shattered all of our school records, gave us 8 wins with the opportunity to win more, and made a once one dimensional MSU offense versatile for the first time truly in quite a while. The best part about Russell's record setting year in 2012? The fact that he will return in 2013 and could do even more. That's right: barring an out of left field decision, Tyler will return to lead this offense in 2013 - one year older, one year wiser, and hopefully with the intent on adding to and breaking a few of the records that he now holds. Like Justin Sutton touched on yesterday, many of the faces Russell will throw to next year will not be the same. But I would still expect big things out of him next year.
Before I go, I would be remissed if I didn't - at least for a paragraph - talk about the flashes of greatness that Dak Prescott has also shown this season. Used sparingly in a Tebow-esque type roll in the offense, Prescott emerged early as the bruising, 4th-and-1 QB would could pick up the tough yardage, but proved late that he could also throw for the yardage as well. Although Prescott's role was limited this year, you can already see just how exciting the offense will be in two seasons with him leading the way. Think Chris Relf with a better passing arm; that is what you will get with Dak. Even though we will miss Tyler in 2014 when he is gone, I have a feeling that Dak will ease that pain when he fully takes over in 2014.