31 August 2011
Tomorrow's the season opener so I figured it's time for me to make a call on how I think the season's going to go. I'm looking forward to the 2011 Bulldogs. I think they will be better all-around than they were last year. Some key pieces have to be replaced but overall I think we'll be looking at the best State team since the 1999 team that went 10-2 and finished #12 in the nation. I think this team will be just as good if not better.
State will have the best Bulldog QB since Sleepy. They will have one of the most well-rounded receiving corps in program history. They will have arguably the best defensive secondary in program history. And they will have the best RB 1-2 punch since Davis-Bouie. We will see one of the deepest State teams in recent memory, and probably the fastest team any of us has ever seen. So, I think it will be something special.
But how will that translate in wins and losses? There are still some questions that will be answered in the first two games. Will the LBs step up and fill the shoes left by White and Wright? Will the D-line be good enough to make up for the holes at LB? Is Brandon Maye the real deal? And how good will the O-line be without Brignone and Sheppard? Plus, the expectations are high this year and that puts pressure on a fairly young team. How will they respond as the favorite rather than the underdog? Here's how I see it:
Definite Wins: Memphis, La Tech, UAB, Tenn-Martin, TSUN. Let's face it, Mullen has yet to lose a game that he was supposed to win. UAB gave us a scare last year so we will be ready this year. Plus, those billboards in Birmingham warrant a proper response. And Mullen owns TSUN. In Starkville, the Rebs won't have a chance.
Likely Win: Kentucky. I say likely because it's in Lexington and that's always a tough place to play.
Likely Losses: Arkansas and Georgia. I just don't feel good about playing in Athens, and Georgia will remember how we pushed them around last year. I don't think we pull it out against the Bulldogs. And Arkansas, in my opinion, will win the West. They will shock a lot of people with an explosive offense (despite losing Knile Davis), and some awesome play in the trenches. In Fayetteville, the Hogs will be too much for us.
That's 6-2 with four games left to discuss. Let's look at them:
At Auburn: On paper State should be the better team but the intangibles will be huge here. There's the Cam Newton issue. There are a lot of unknowns about Auburn, the fact that they are replacing a lot of key personnel, so it's hard to know how good or bad they may be. And let's not forget that Auburn is the defending national champion and they will remain so until someone beats them. They won't give that up easily. It's on the plains and the Tigers will be ready. I give the edge to State but it will be a war.
LSU: The Tigers are dealing with some off-the-field issues. It's the home opener in Starkville on Thursday night, on ESPN. DWS will be rocking and rowdy. LSU will probably be the favorite but they won't be taking the Dogs lightly. It's LSU, and we seem to be cursed against the Tigers. This year I see it finally happening. We take the Tigers, and the goalposts come down.
South Carolina: Bad feeling. Bad, bad feeling. Yes, it's home, but this will be our 7th consecutive game without a bye week, four of those will have been on the road. The team will be tired and banged up. SC will also have played 7 straight, but only one road game prior to Starkville. Honestly, this is a toss up for me but I'm leaning against the Dogs. I just don't feel good about it.
Bama: They have more talent and are just plain better than us. I think it's close. I think it's physical. I think the Tide leaves Starkville relieved to escape with a win, but they will escape with a win.
So that's it. Even though State will be better than last year, better than any Bulldog team in over a decade, I think 8-4 is what we're gonna get. The schedule is tougher than last year with the more winnable games on the road and the brutes at home. And the SEC competition just gets tougher every year. Yes, there isn't a game on the schedule that State can't win and I think there is a legitimate chance at 10 or 11 regular season wins without batting an eye. Yes, we will be in the West race. But I just don't think we are at that point yet. In any other conference State is top 2. Not in this one.
Look out for Tennessee-Martin as a trap game. No one is talking about it but State will be set up here. They will be returning from a tough win at Kentucky and looking forward to a war with Bama. It's homecoming, which means distractions. Hopefully, Mullen has that one circled.
I expect Saulsberry, Carmon and Charles Mitchell to get drafted (and Relf of course). Maye will gel into a defensive leader and will make some big plays for us. Relf shatters the single season passing record and becomes the first QB I can remember to Three-Peat Ole Miss, and he takes home the Conerly. There will probably be a 1000 yard receiver, and it may not even be Bumphis. Robert Eliot will surprise with some significant contributions to the offense, and Cam Lawrence emerges as a big-time defensive player. Ferlando Bohanna and Damien Robinson will be two guys we don't say much about now but will talk a lot about at the end of the season. And the secondary sets a new season record for INTs. Mullen will be rumored in several coaching vacancies but I don't think he's going anywhere.
State WILL win a game they're not supposed to, either against Auburn, LSU, SC, or Bama. And they will probably be back in a New Years Day bowl, my guess is the Cotton Bowl in a rematch with future SEC rival Texas A&M.