Friday, September 2, 2011

Opening night: Mississippi State looks polished, dangerous

image The slate of contests from last night’s debut of the 2011 college football season offered a few hints of what might be ahead. South Alabama beat a plucky West Alabama 20-10, improving its overall record to 18-0 and showing Joey Jones’ bon fides as a game day coach.  Kentucky fans always treat football season like a warmup to basketball, and last night’s sleeper of a 14-3 win shows that there ain’t much reason for an attitude adjustment.

But what impressed me and should frighten SEC West opponents was Mississippi State’s dismantling of Memphis. Mullen’s Bulldogs don’t seem to have lost a step after demolishing Michigan in the Gator Bowl. On a steamy night in Memphis, they rolled up 645 yards of total offense. Vick Ballard ran for 166 of those. Chris Relf threw for 202 of them. Records fell faster than Memphis’ hope for a season opening upset on their own turf. In the last two games, Mississippi State has scored 111 points.

The Bulldogs look like a polished and confident football team in midseason form, even taking into account the overmatched competition they faced last night. Memphis is a young team and looked lost, but give some credit to State for making them look that way.

State gets an extra two days of rest and preparation before traveling to Auburn, a team it lost to in a nail-biter last season, 17-14. It was in that game that the 2010 Auburn team found its Newtonian identity and relied on its experienced, talented defense to hold off the Bulldogs. It’s safe to say that Mississippi State is a better team than the 2010 flavor, and Auburn is still restocking its shelves. Play this game in Starkville and State would likely be the favorite. At Jordan-Hare, it’s a coin flip and should be a fun game to watch.

State then gets LSU at home on another Thursday night matchup, takes a tune-up/breather against Louisiana Tech and travels to Columbia for a game against 2010 SEC East champ South Carolina. If Mississippi State finds a way to win two of the three upcoming SEC games and beats Kentucky in October, the Alabama and Arkansas games in November might go a long way to deciding who makes the trip to Atlanta on the first Saturday in December.

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