Russell set eleven season passing records in 2012, but what really stands out is how in just one full season as the starter he is already in striking distance of several career standards. He has every opportunity to graduate as the premier passer in program annals.
Yet the quarterback is not the lone multiple-award-nominated Bulldog of this bunch, or even the offense for that matter. Senior offensive lineman Gabe Jackson is not only being watched for awards but is on every NFL scout's radar as well and likely to be the highest-drafted Dog next spring.
A first team All-SEC selection of media last year (second team by league coaches), Jackson is projected to repeat and likely exceed his all-conference feats of '12. He also is expected to make the jump from honorable mention All-American as a junior to the real thing this season. Meanwhile he is being tracked by both the Outland Trophy, for best interior lineman; and the Lombardi Award given to the best lineman on either side of the trench. The Birmingham NEWS has named him the SEC's best offensive lineman for 2013.
What bodes even better for Bulldog blocking this season is having two linemen watched for national awards. In fact Dillon Day achieved remarkably early recognition when the Rimington Trophy folks put him on their preseason list…as a 2012 sophomore, having only moved into the starting job in '11 due to injuries elsewhere. His name is naturally back on the '13 watch list and Day's chances of making the finalist cut is much greater with both age and production.
Another 2012 surprise of sorts was Malcolm Johnson making the Mackey Award watch list for the first time after cracking the '11 Bulldog lineup mid-season. Last season didn't produce as hoped thanks to a summer injury but the half-schedule Johnson did play affirmed he is one to, well, watch by Mackey staff even if Mississippi State's concept of a tight end doesn't fit classic schemes.
Having served as an understudy to Vick Ballard two seasons, LaDarius Perkins used '12 as his own breakout year. He notched only the 12th 1,000-rushing yard campaign ever at State and earned second team All-SEC from media, no small feat given his competition in this conference. Now Perkins is on the national radar nominated for not just the Walker Award which goes to the best running back; he is included on the Maxwell Award too, joining Russell and contending for the country's top player period. His greater feat may prove to be getting as many touches this season thanks to a host of talented younger backs itching for their own chances.
Bulldog defenders are not absent the post-season awards picture either. A 102-tackle freshman season is a great way to grab attention too, and Benardrick McKinney has established himself as an All-SEC star already. Even at his sophomore age the middle linebacker is nominated for both the Butkus Award given for the best ‘backer in the land; and the Bednarik Award for best defensive player of all anywhere. The play on those names is inevitable this year and seasons to come as McKinney makes his name that much bigger. Though, he might be happier about a somewhat-less serious honor. CBSSports.com has listed him among their ten ‘craziest athletes' in college football. He might indeed be a fun-loving sort but it is offensive players McKinney can truly drive crazy.
Nor is he the lone Bulldog linebacker named by the Butkus crew. Senior outside ‘backer Deontae Skinner made their watch list as well. Meanwhile head-hunting safety Nickoe Whitley is nominated to the Nagurski Trophy also given to the country's best defensive player. That one he doesn't have to compete with McKinney for.
Bulldog football produced one national trophy last season, as cornerback Johnthan Banks earned the Thorpe Award for best college defensive back. Banks was a semifinalist for two more defensive honors, the Lott and Bednarik. Banks also went on to a first-round NFL draft selection, giving Mississippi State consecutive first-rounders in '12 and '13.
These current eight watch-listed Bulldogs, who can be joined mid-season by other teammates depending on their play, have another week left in their summer before August arrives and they report for organized practices. Mississippi State has the full month to prepare for their much-anticipated opening game with Oklahoma State in Houston's Reliant Stadium on the last day of August.