Coach: Dan Mullen is 21-17 after three seasons as the head coach in Starkville. His Bulldogs went 7-6 last year, including 2-6 in the SEC. MSU beat Wake Forest 23-17 in the Music City Bowl for Mullen’s second straight bowl win.
Offense: Five starters return, including quarterback Tyler Russell. He’ll have a pair of returning targets in Arceto Clark and Chad Bumphis. So Mullen has hinted that he will tweak his spread scheme to help Russell, who is more of a pocket passer. Now State just has to find a replacement for running back Vick Ballad.
Defense: Seven starters return, including linebacker Cameron Lawrence. State allowed just 19.7 points per game last year, which was 16th best in the country. Tackle Josh Boyd anchors a formidable defensive line.
Overall: The key should be a young offensive line and how quickly Mullen can transition from his spread option to a scheme more conducive to passing. State’s biggest problem remains the same — it’s in the loaded SEC West, which now welcomes Texas A&M to the fold.
Series: Mississippi State has beaten Kentucky three straight and four of the last five years. Because of SEC expansion, one quirk in the schedule is that State returns to Lexington for the second straight year. Mullen is 2-0 against Kentucky at Commonwealth Stadium.