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Posts Tagged ‘Mississippi State’

Thursday Night Lights

Posted by Brett Kincaid on September 15, 2011

How many times in your life have you heard this statement?  “I sure wish I was in Starkville tonight.”

Believe it or not, that’s a true statement.  Tonight’s game between LSU and Mississippi State is the first critical game of the SEC West slate.  No, critical is not an overstatement.  This is a huge game that will have season-long implications on both teams and the rest of the division.  An LSU win solidifies the Tigers as one of the teams to beat in the conference and the nation.  A Mississippi State victory puts the Bulldogs back in the SEC West race after a humbling setback last week at Auburn.  The oddsmakers list LSU as a 3-point favorite on the road, meaning Vegas thinks LSU is at least a TD better than MSU on a neutral field.  But this game is not on a neutral field.  It’s going to be in an electric atmosphere, under the lights at Davis Wade Stadium.  I sure wish I was in Starkville tonight.

Why LSU should win:  The Tigers have a defense that may be as ferocious as the one in Tuscaloosa.  They have allowed just 91 total yards rushing in two games.  The secondary is under construction, but John Chavis has plenty of talent to rotate.  Mississippi State uses the read-option to set up its play action passing attack.  If the Bulldogs cannot run, it makes Chris Relf a drop back passer – hardly his strength.  Offensively, LSU has been good enough.  Jarret Lee is your classic “game manager” quarterback, controlling the offense largely by handing the ball to LSU’s latest stud running backs, Michael Ford and Spencer Ware.  Lee simply needs to hit enough passes to keep the Bulldogs safeties honest, creating space at the second level for Ford and Ware.  A steady rushing attack coupled with the Tigers front seven should keep the cowbells quiet and the Tigers unbeaten.

Why MSU should win:  The Bulldogs fell behind early last week before correcting some mistakes and making a late push.  But for atrocious play-calling in the last 20 seconds of the game, Mississippi State may have pulled out a victory at Auburn.  The MSU defense is not as bad as it showed Saturday, and they certainly have enough talent to contain a vanilla LSU offense.  By eliminating the big plays (Auburn scored on 2 plays over 30 yards) Mississippi State will force Jarrett Lee to engineer sustained drives for LSU to score.  Offensively, Chris Relf has the ability to take over a football game.  He’s got the potential to put up 400 yards of total offense each week, especially with the emergence of Vic Ballard.  Reducing chunk plays for LSU while putting the game in Relf’s hands will have the cowbell nation clanging loudly well into Friday morning.

And the Winner Is…

My love for Dan Mullen is well known.  I want to take the Bulldogs.  All the intangibles are on their side tonight.  Road games in the SEC are brutally tough, and night games are even more difficult.  So … I’m going to take LSU.

Defying the odds, Les Miles appears to have his team focused on a run at SEC and BCS championships.  Jarrett Lee has shown maturity in the past 2 games, bolstered by the confidence that his defense can win the game.  Lee needs to not lose the game.  He will throw at least one interception tonight, but he will also make a critical third-down conversion in each half.  Ford and Ware will wear down the Bulldogs defense in the second half, and the LSU defensive line will eventually win the war of wills.  This has the markings of a slobber-knocker SEC showdown.  I think this will be a game that reminds us all why we love SEC football.  In the end, it’ll be a big road win for the Tigers.  LSU 23, Mississippi State 17

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Posted in Sports | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off on Thursday Night Lights

Cam Newton, Meet Albert Means

Posted by Brett Kincaid on November 5, 2010

Auburn is 9-0, controls its own destiny to win the SEC West, and with a win in the SEC Championship Game is almost 100% certainly in the BCS Championship Game. Walking around the campus in east Alabama today, though, you’d hardly think that was the case. Instead the school that has risen from cellar dweller to national title contender in just 3 years now faces the distinct possibility of vacating all of their wins thanks to a “recruiting specialist” who may have solicited money for Cam Newton’s services. To add insult to injury, the alleged solicitation did not even involve Auburn University.

If the stories are correct Kenny Rogers, a former MSU Bulldog player and current advisor to football recruits looking for a college home, offered Mississippi State the services of Cam Newton at a discounted rate of $180,000. If Rogers is to be believed, there were offers on the table for $200,000, but MSU would get a “deal” because of Newton’s relationship with MSU head coach Dan Mullen.

I do not find it hard to believe Cam Newton was oblivious to the goings on here, at least until the very end. My guess is that the young man had, at minimum, strong suspicions about why his father was so eager that Cam attend Auburn rather than Mississippi State. He was long expected to head to Starkville where he could reunite with Dan Mullen, the offensive coordinator while both were at Florida. Suddenly Auburn becomes the destination of choice. Cam Newton has been quoted as saying his father made the final decision. And now, entering the 10th week of the college football season, Mississippi State leaks this story possibly in an attempt to head off its own NCAA investigation.

Obviously Newton signed with Auburn rather than the Bulldogs. I caution you, though, not to assume that Auburn paid for Newton. It certainly seems logical, but there does not appear to be any evidence at the moment to suggest Rogers or the Newton family received a dime from Auburn or its affiliates.

It certainly seems logical, though. Which leads to the bigger question: Exactly how common is this practice? I find it hard to believe Kenny Rogers, a former player at Mississippi State in the 1980s, dreamed up a number in hopes that someone would pay his ransom. Just like I find it hard to believe someone dreamed up the figure it would take to land Albert Means, the scandal that brought down Alabama (only to rise like Lazarus under evildoer Nick Saban).

The big concern for Auburn fans is that Cam’s eligibility will indeed be stripped. You see, it does not matter if Auburn was at all involved in some nefarious transaction. The NCAA mandates that athletes are ineligible if they – through a family member of other representative – solicit payment for his or her services. The only possible way out for the Newton family and Auburn – aside from this being 100% fabricated, a 100% impossibility – is for Rogers to admit that he asked for the cash with the intent of pocketing it all himself.

Even if Rogers did cop to that, wouldn’t your first question be: How can you guarantee delivery of this kid’s signature?

Truth be told, as a college football fan, I wish all of this weren’t true. Cam Newton has been a delight to watch. I was a huge skeptic going into this season, and the kid has delivered beyond the reasonable expectation of anyone – especially that of a lowly Arkansas blogger. And now it may all be for naught. The fact is that far too many reputable journalists are digging on this story. If the story is there, it will be found.

I have only heard one person, Dan Wetzel from Yahoo! Sports, talk about the greater issue here: How was the market set for Cam? Only the most small minded of people can really think this is an isolated incident. More and more we are seeing kids sign with “recruiting services” to help them get “matched” with the proper school where they can play football. This is where the Newton story originated. Kenny Rogers allegedly sought some money to Cam’s services. He represented Cam Newton and his family via Elite Football Preparation, a company organized to help athletes find the school that fulfills their needs.

What appears to be happening now, or at least what I hope is happening now, is the light of day being shown on the dark underbelly of big time college athletics. The bottom line is that big programs cheat, cut corners, and do whatever it takes to land big time prospects. They continue to do those things while the athletes are in school. Much like the stock market, the guys breaking the rules are at least one step ahead of the regulators charged with keeping everyone honest. And in an even great parallel to Wall Street, the people who write the rules also employ the people in charge of finding new ways to violate those rules. Why do you think the top schools stay at the top every year? Everyone has good athletes these days, so why do the same 5-10 teams compete for championships every year? It’s because those schools know how to make sure elite athletes land on their campuses. And it has very, very little to do with the endowment of the campus library.

This is not an exercise in pointing fingers. It could just as easily be Arkansas as Auburn, or North Carolina, or South Carolina, or … you get the point. It’s probably best for all college football fans to prepare themselves for a major investigation in the near future. Unfortunately for the sport, this is the only subject matter that could distract fans from the BCS v. Playoff debate – another headline-grabber that casts college football in a negative light.

Posted in Commentary, Sports | Tagged: , , , | 12 Comments »

Bulldog Believer

Posted by Brett Kincaid on August 2, 2010

In this space last season I declared myself a Dan Mullen believer.  Twelve months later I continue to believe the former Florida offensive coordinator can breathe life into the long-moribund program at Mississippi State.  After a 5-7 season that was breathlessly close to 6-6 (LSU game), the Bulldogs look to build on their “bowl” win against Mississippi.  Their bell cow at running back has moved on to greener pastures, and the quarterback situation is far from settled – but don’t go to sleep on Moo U.  This is a team that could fight its way into a real bowl game this year.  Of course, Coach Mullenhasdifferent goals.  The second year coach told reporters at the SEC Media Days, “(The players are) not just going to play hard and battle teams for four quarters, they’re going to find a way to win games and get us to championship level this season.”  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, coach.

While the Bulldogs should be an improved team overall, in the SEC these gains are measured incrementally.  If Mississippi State makes it to Atlanta, I will walk there to cover it.  That’s right:  I will walk to the Georgia Dome from North Little Rock if the Mississippi State Bulldogs win the SEC West and play for the conference title.  How’s that for motivation, Coach?!

The truth of the matter is that Mississippi State will find it hard to get to a bowl game this season.  In addition to the always brutal SEC schedule, the Bulldogs have a tricky road trip to Houston the week before a visit to The Swamp.  In order to find its way to any bowl game this year, the Bulldogs will need at least one sizable upset in the SEC along with a road win against the Cougars.

The Offense

The statewide ban on the forward pass in The Magnolia State has been repealed (someone tell the Mississippi head coach), and the Bulldogs took full advantage last season.  After years of grinding away and struggling to find any offensive identity, Mississippi State made enormous gains as a unit last

Gone to the NFL

season.  The passing game – while still operating with training wheels – was helped largely by a strong running game.  Anthony Dixon has advanced to the NFL, but an experienced offensive line should provide some holes for those wanting to take his place.  Career backup Robert Elliot should get most of the carries this year, but it will certainly be a team effort.  Juco transfer Vick Ballard will have plenty of carries, as will redshirt freshman LaDarius Perkins.

Most eyes in Starkville, though, will be focused on the trigger man to Mullen’s spread offense.  Chris Reiff does not have the flash possessed by Tyler Russell, but he also limits his mistakes.  Expect to see a steady rotation of these two signal callers, especially early in the season.  MSU needs one of them to emerge, though, and my money is on Russell eventually becoming QB1.  He doesn’t have the elusiveness of Reiff, but Russell has the natural quarterback skills needed to play on Sundays.  With a little maturity and seasoning you can expect to see him every Saturday for now.

Whoever ends up as the primary quarterback, he’ll need quality receivers.  Unfortunately for the Bulldogs the depth has not yet developed at wide receiver.  Chad Bumphis has loads of talent, but he’ll meet a lot of double teams this season until another receiver emerges.  Coaches hope practice all-American Leon Berry can put it all together when the lights are on this season.

The strength of the offense this season is undoubtedly the big ugglies.  The Bulldogs return four starters up front with highly touted Tobias Smith coming back from injury as the lone non-returning starter.  J.C. Brignone is the senior leader at center.  And look for NFL scouts to follow Derek Sherrod at left tackle.

The Defense

A sophomore laden group of pups will be unleashed this season under first-year coordinator Manny Diaz.  In his time at Middle Tennessee State, the Blue Raiders finished in the top 3 in total defense in the Sun Belt Conference for Diaz.  Chris Wilson, who comes to Starkville from Norman (talk about bad luck – one hick town to another), will serve as the co-coordinator.

Pernell McPhee is a legit NFL-caliber talent on the defensive line.  At 6-4, 285 pounds McPhee has size and speed needed to wreak havoc on opposing offenses.  He racked up 5 sacks last season, his first in the SEC as a Juco transfer.  Fletcher Cox earned a starting job at tackle midway through his freshman season and is back again as a sophomore.

Another potential NFLer is linebacker K.J. Wright, who has moved to weakside linebacker.  At 6-4, 250 pounds, Wright matches speed with great size.  Scouts will love to watch what Wright can do this year.  Expect to see Wright to have chances to make big plays under Diaz’s attacking system.

Strong safety Charles Mitchell will lead the secondary this season after a stellar sophomore campaign.  Maurice Langston should emerge as the #1 cover guy at corner for Mississippi State.  Langston found himself in a bit of legal trouble last year, but he worked his way back on the field and ended up showing tremendous cover skills.

Special Teams

Sean Brauchle returns as the team’s placekicker this season.  The 2009 Juco transfer was solid if not spectacular last year.  Heath Hutchins is also back as the starting punter, although Bulldog fans may be hoping for good competition this fall.  Hutchins managed only a 39.7 yard average last fall.

In the return game, look for Leon Berry and Chad Bumphis to handle most of the chances.  Both have great speed and experience.

The Schedule

I expect MSU to shoot out of the gates thanks to 2 big home games.  Tiger High comes to town from Memphis on Labor Day Weekend before a nationally televised Thursday game against SEC West foe Auburn.  I like MSU to win both of those games, setting off a frenzy in Starkville.  The problem comes during a brutal stretch in the middle of the season.  A road trip to Baton Rouge comes in the third week before a home game against Georgia.  FCS Alcorn State comes to Starkville before back-to-back road games at Houston and Florida.  A non-conference game against UAB follows before Kentucky invades Starkville in advance of a much-needed OPEN week.  Two of the last three games in 2010 for MSU will be on the road, at Alabama and Mississippi with Arkansas sandwiched between those two.

What Will Happen

The Bulldogs will get off to a great start before stalling midseason.  The Georgia game is winnable at home, but those Bulldogs bring more talent and experience than the pups from Starkville.  The Houston game ends up being the swing game for Mississippi State.  Kentucky could also provide a big win at home, making a trip to the post-season a reasonable goal for Dan Mullen’s second season.  Another win over Mississippi in the Egg Bowl would create widespread pandemonium across central Mississippi.

Key Games:  Auburn, at Houston, Kentucky, Mississippi

MSU Schedule (7 -5, 3-5)

Sept. 4 Memphis – W
Sept. 9 Auburn – W
Sept. 18 at LSU – L
Sept. 25 Georgia – L
Oct. 2 Alcorn State – W
Oct. 9 at Houston – W
Oct. 16 at Florida – L
Oct. 23 UAB – W
Oct. 30 Kentucky – W
Nov. 6 OPEN DATE
Nov. 13 at Alabama – L
Nov. 20 Arkansas – L
Nov. 27 at Ole Miss – W

Posted in SEC Preview, Sports | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

 
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