Mississippi State is coming off back-to-back bowl wins for the first time in more than a decade. The program is generating enough excitement that the school plans to expand Davis Wade Stadium.
But can the Bulldogs move up in the stacked SEC West?
Junior quarterback Tyler Russell could be the key. A part-time player last season, Russell says all the pieces are in place offensively. He expects major improvement from an attack that ranked ninth in the SEC in scoring (25.3)
"If you look across the board on offense, you've got four or five running backs who can tote it," Russell told the Associated Press. "All of them can play. You've got receivers -- plenty of seniors and then some other guys who have experience. And the offensive line, we've got a lot. They did great in the spring and have picked up right where they left off."
The defense, led by senior corner Johnthan Banks (12 career interceptions) and senior tackle Josh Boyd, should be stout. And the schedule sets up for a fast start.
Here are opposing scenarios that could play out this fall:
Best-case scenario: Tired of coming up just short against Auburn -- three of the Bulldogs’ four straight losses in the series have come by a total of 11 points -- Mississippi State breaks through at home Sept. 8. Russell spreads the ball around to Chad Bumphis and his other experienced wideouts, and LaDarius Perkins shows he’s more than a change-of-pace back by running out the clock. The win propels Mississippi State to a 7-0 start before the schedule gets brutal. The Bulldogs fall to Alabama, LSU and Arkansas, but hold serve at home against the Aggies and win the Egg Bowl for the fourth straight time for a 9-3 finish.
Worst-case scenario: The Bulldogs drop another close one to Auburn. Russell’s inconsistency flares up again in an Oct. 13 loss to Tennessee. Mississippi State really misses Fletcher Cox in consecutive losses to Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU and Arkansas. Opponents run up the gut, and throw away from Banks. Beating Ole Miss in Oxford feels good, but it’s a second straight 6-6 regular season for the Bulldogs.
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis from SEC bloggers Daniel Lewis and Larry Hartstein, follow @CBSSportsSEC.