As the offseason winds down, we anxiously await the time when we don't have to talk about predictions, what if's, or simulated seasons anymore. We are all just ready to watch some actual football. But as the season nears, there are questions surrounding this Mississippi State football team, as there are for each team. 2012 could be a huge year for MSU football, or it could be a bust. Only time will tell. But as we prepare ourselves for September 1st, let's take a look at a few things all State fans are wondering about, and my thoughts how these questions might be answered this fall.
1. Can Dan Mullen finally beat an SEC West team not named Ole Miss?
My answer: Yes, I believe this is the year Dan finally breaks through in that regard. State will have Auburn, Texas A&M, and Arkansas - all at home, and I feel very confident that Mullen & Co. can win 1 or 2 of those games, with an outside shot at winning all 3. Nevertheless, a win over Auburn early on I think gets this monkey off Dan's back, if it ever really was there besides in the minds of other SEC fans.
2. Can Tyler Russell break State's 34 year old passing yard and 17 year old TD pass records?
My answer: Absolutely, and he will with ease. The passing yards (2,422) and TDs (16) records have both stood for entirely too long, and I think with Russell's talent and the talent around him this year, the records will finally fall. I mean, State's schedule features 5 games that Russell should throw 2 or more TDs in at minimum, which would give him 10 TDs and only 6 to get in the remaining 7 games. The yardage record may be a bit more tricky, depending on how State's run / pass ratio is balanced, but again, there are 5 games on the schedule that Russell can easily rack up yards in, leaving 7 games to probably get 1,000 yards or so. If Kevin Fant (2002 and 2003) can sniff the yardage record, I have no doubt that Tyler Russell can too.
3. Can State manage two or more wins in that brutal 5 game stretch to close the season?
My answer: I think 2 definitely, 3 maybe, 4 and 5 are out of the question. I know people are high on Texas A&M this year despite them losing Ryan Tannehill, but I think that game bodes well for State at home. Throw in a good performance in Oxford, and there you have your 2 wins out of 5. The difference in a good season and a great season, however, would be getting a 3rd win in that stretch. I know Arkansas is absolutely loaded on offense, but State has traditionally played them well in Starkville, and if we can finally come out on top, that would elevate this season to being one of the greats in recent decades.
4. Will State produce a 1,000 yard rusher for the 4th time in the last 6 years?
My answer: I don't think that trend continues this season. I'm not saying LaDarius Perkins, Nick Griffin, or even Josh Robinson aren't capable of producing a 1,000 yard season, it's just that I think each of them will see enough time this year to keep one player from accumulating a great number of yards. Overall I think this unit will produce some of the best numbers in the SEC, but individually, 2012 will not be a banner season for anyone, at least in the rushing yards department.
5. Can State make a New Year's Day Bowl game?
My answer: Relevant to my answer to question #3, I say yes. The key to a NYD bowl game for State is that final five game stretch. Assuming that State starts 5-2 or better, they would need 3, possibly 4 wins in those last 5 games. I think 4 wins out of the last 5 games is off the table, but 3 is doable, and if State is fortunate enough to Start 6-1 or 7-0, then a NYD game is certainly within reach.