Expectations were high this time last year for Mississippi State, but they are more tempered for this season.
Last year, Mississippi State was coming off a nine-win season and a Gator Bowl rout of Michigan. While the Gator is a second-tier bowl, it still was the Bulldogs' first Jan. 1 game since the 1998 season, and with back-to-back September games in 2011 against Auburn and LSU, the hope was that the Bulldogs could make some early-season noise.
It wasn't to be. Mississippi State lost a 41-34 shootout to Auburn, then fell 19-6 to LSU. The Bulldogs ended up starting 0-4 in league play and finished 2-6, with wins over Kentucky and woeful Ole Miss. In three games against the SEC West's "Big Three," Mississippi State was outscored 87-30 by Alabama, Arkansas and LSU.
Mississippi State junior Tyler Russell is the heir apparent at quarterback.
Mississippi State at-a-glance
Coach: Dan Mullen (4th season)
The passing attack again was a huge issue, and that remains a concern this spring. Mississippi State returns five full-time starters on offense, including all three starting wide receivers. But will there be anybody to get them the ball? And will the quarterback be ably protected, as the Bulldogs are searching for three new starting linemen? Coach Dan Mullen and his staff also are looking to establish a pecking order at tailback with the graduation of leading rusher Vick Ballard.
[ Dr. Saturday: Ohio State coach Urban Meyer buys expensive new house ]
Junior Tyler Russell is the heir apparent at quarterback with Chris Relf gone. But Russell had his chances to unseat Relf in the past two seasons and was unable to do so.
There are fewer questions about the defense. The secondary should be fine, and in Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield, the Bulldogs have one of the best cornerback tandems in the SEC. LB Cameron Lawrence was productive last season, his first as a starter. But he is the only for-sure starter at the position, and the line needs two new starters. The big loss up front is T Fletcher Cox, a potential All-American who turned pro a year early.
Mississippi State struggled at times against the run last season, so establishing a solid tackle rotation is going to be important this spring. Coaches also wouldn't mind an end or two flashed some pass-rushing ability this spring; the Bulldogs didn't get consistent pressure off the edge last season.
Other popular content on Yahoo! Sports:
• Heels in Elite Eight – but also in the danger zone
• Jon Jones' remarkable UFC run can't dislodge Anderson Silva from top spot
• Tim Tebow sandwich coming to Carnegie Deli