If what Dan Mullen, the had coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs says is right, then this is the dawning of a new age for this this team. College football programs have a shelf lif eof only one year.
Mullen and his Bulldogs took a step in the right direction last season. But now, as Mullen feels the ehat toproduce a better winner and a more consistent program, the 2014 season becomes a crucial one for both Mullena and his staff.
Can this program take another step forward and become Vanderbilt of the SEC in 2014? Here are the five most pressing issues with the program according to cdispatch.com.
Who comes, who goes?
MSU returns 17 total starters from the 7-6 squad but none more important than quarterback Dak Prescott. Prescott tossed for 1,940 yards on 156-of-267 passes with 10 touchdowns. He added a team-best 829 yards on the ground with 13 rushing scores. Prescott leads all returning Southeastern Conference quarterbacks with 17 career rushing touchdowns.
Where are the players who suffered season-ending injuries last year physically in their rehabilitation?
In a 2013 season that was revenged by injuries, MSU will welcome back veterans Jay Hughes and Justin Malone to the team after suffering devastating season-ending surgeries. Hughes, the starting strong safety in the 2013 opening game loss to Oklahoma State, went down in the first drive of the season to an achilles injury. He'll now try to slowly work back into a safety rotation with the two players that two over his position in a platoon role in Dee Arrington and Kendrick Market. Malone, the projected starter at right guard, was lost in the Oklahoma State game to a season-ending leg injury and will try to find chemistry and depth with returning seniors Dillon Day, Blaine Clausell and Ben Beckwith on the offensive line.
Will MSU offensive line coach John Hevesy finally build depth up front?
The MSU offensive line returns three senior starters (Dillon Day at center, Blaine Clausell at left tackle and Ben Beckwith at guard). The Bulldogs also bring back spot starter Damien Robinson at right tackle. It'll be interesting to see who the coaching staff initially tabs to replace projected draft pick Gabe Jackson at left guard. With four-star prospects Jake Thomas and Kent Flowers coming off redshirt years mixed in with sophomore Jamaal Clayborn and converted tight end Rufus Warren, Hevesy might be able to finally rotate 6-8 offensive lineman in games after five years of being afraid of one injury setting back his plans.
Who steps up at receiver?
Every wide receiver from MSU's 2013 season returns. Yes, read that sentence again and then, go back up to question 1 to see why Prescott is considered an early All-SEC first-team favorite. De'Runnya Wilson made a surprise impact in his freshman season with 26 catches and three touchdowns in 13 games. Prescott will also have veteran targets in Jameon Lewis, Robert Johnson and Joe Morrow to throw the football to and will look for improved numbers as Gonzales, who was promoted to co-offensive coordinator with Hevesy this winter, has much more experienced group in 2014.
Where does Chris Jones play?
Ask Chris Jones what he is and he'll say defensive end. The fact is however, the former five-star recruit from Houston, Miss., was kicked inside to tackle for the 2013 season in order to get him on the field early. "I'm not a defensive tackle," Jones said Sept. 7 after the victory over Alcorn State. "I'm a defensive end that is playing defensive tackle for the moment. Hopefully my label and position is going to change." Jones had 32 tackles, a team-high seven tackles for loss and three sacks at defensive tackle but with a void at defensive end with the graduation loss of Denico Autry, it's conceivable all 300 pounds of Jones could be back at his favorite position this spring.