*Thursday night, Cristil begins his 55th season as football ‘Voice of the Bulldogs.'
*Mississippi State is 74-31-2 in all season-openers since 1895, and 50-14-1 when starting a season on the home field. But the record drops to 9-12 when opening a season on campus against a SEC opponent. In all SEC home openers State is 23-31-3, with a six-year losing streak.
*This is the 13th time a Bulldog team has played one of ESPN's Thursday night games, dating back to 1992. State has a 6-6 record in these games, but has lost the last four times out.
About the Tigers: How many teams lose their headline quarterback, most productive receiver, and top tackler…and come back with higher ranking and expectations? That's the story in Tiger Town this fall as LSU opens their season with a #2 in front of the name and a big bulls-eye on their backs. They've got most of the hosses—or the cats rather—to get it done. And, to take the Western Division title they should have won last fall. Certainly the defense will be as good as any and better than most, and that's the key to this season. The only potential concern is lack of the sheer offensive explosiveness Jamarcus Russell brought to the field. Then again, a sure-and-steady approach on that side ought to suffice, particularly with a schedule that brings all but one of the big games to Baton Rouge. And that one dangerous road trip, to Tuscaloosa, isn't until November, plenty of time to work out any kinks. And by then we'll know if the number-two ranking was a bit ambitious…or if the Tigers have what it takes to bring the big prize home.
Offense: No, he's not one to freeze a defense in pure fear, nor a number-one draft pick. Still senior Matt Flynn might be the right triggerman for this year's team; seasoned, reliable, and not likely to put LSU in bad situations. It might say more about the team—and new coordinator Gary Crowton--than the player that Flynn is on the Manning Award watch list. Or, that he has some darn good tools to get the ball to. Early Doucet can play split end and flanker with equal ease and efficiency, having scored eight touchdowns on 59 catches during an all-SEC junior season. Brandon LaFelt leads three sophomore wideouts trying to get the starts and stats that graduated Dwayne Bowe accounted for. Last year Jacob Hester and Keiland Williams were a well-matched pair of runners with 440 and 436 yards respectively and 11 touchdowns between them. Without Russell around to run both will have more demands and opportunity. Hester plays tailback, single-back, and fullback, and is also a reliable receiver, a role he'll likely expand further this season. There's a proven line in front of these thrower/runners with four veterans, including 350-pound junior Herman Johnson who has started at both guard slots. The ‘name' on the line though is senior Will Arnold, the Mississippi native projected as first-team all-American by most everyone. The only hole to fill is right tackle where senior Carnell Stewart will start until freshman Joseph Barksdale is ready to. No such questions on the left end as soph Ciron Black is already a standout and soon to be the next LSU line star.
Defense: How highly-regarded is this defense? No less than nine of the Tigers listed to start the opener are up for post-season honors or are ranked by various magazines among the best-at-positions. Heck, even two non-starters make such lists, so depth is clearly not an issue either. It takes a truly special player to stand out among this star-studded roster and Glenn Dorsey is just that. The left (though he has just as many starts at right) tackle is up for the six national awards a defensive lineman can win, and it will surprise no one if he sweeps ‘em all. The only question is why he chose to return for a senior season. With Dorsey dominating game-plans, there is that much more room for line-mates Marlon Favorite and Tyson Jackson to get their own share of the tackles and sacks. Makes one wonder how the trio of linebackers, all stars in their own right, have any fun. But MLB Darry Beckwith manages, and was second in tackles as a soph, and WLB Ali Highsmith just two stops behind. So getting past that brutal line is not the end of anyone's troubles. And then there's a secondary that, despite losing stud safety LaRon Landry, is not lacking for talent and experience. This season is RCB and 26-game starter Chevis Jackson's turn in the spotlight as he'll likely go from second-team to first-group all-conference. Senior Craig Steltz is back at strong safety while junior Curtis Taylor takes Landry's old job. The only ‘good' news for the league is that over half this group will graduate…but don't look too long at the underclassmen coming along behind.
Specialists: After four seasons of watching him kick (and having to write ‘no relation'), we've bid farewell to punter Chris Jackson and his 42-yard average. It's up to senior Patrick Fisher or freshman Josh Jasper to step in and kick opponents into field positions that defense can take advantage of. Junior PK Colt David is already third in career PATs, though he was 8-of-13 on field goals last year; Jasper is his backup threat now. Doucet will return both kickoffs and punts.
The Series: This is Mississippi State's second-oldest existing rivalry, going back to the second season of MSU football in 1896. It is also the second-most-played series for State with 100 meetings (behind the 103 games with Mississippi). LSU owns a 64-33-3 lead, and has thoroughly dominated the series in the past two decades winning 14 of the last 15 games and 19 of the last 22. State's last win was in 1999, at Scott Field where the Tigers still hold a 10-6-1 advantage. Sylvester Croom is 0-3 against Tiger teams, while Les Miles is 2-0 against State.
The Last Time: September 30, 2006 It took host LSU less than four minutes to ring up the games first touchdown, and the Tigers didn't slow down their offensive pace until the lead stood at 35-0…with ten minutes left in the first half. Quarterback Jamarcus Russell shredded Mississippi State for a personal-record 330 yards and three touchdowns, and only two of his 20 passes were not completed. He hooked up with Craig Davis six times for 101 yards, Dwayne Bowe for 95, and Early Doucet for 71 in a near-perfect afternoon. In fact the only blots on the home team's day were the game halting for lightning in the area; and an interception-touchdown return by State's Derek Pegues off relief quarterback Matt Flynn. State's first points came on a field goal by Adam Carlson at 4:50 of the second quarter. Omarr Conner threw to Tony Burks for a 46-yard score in the last period, though LSU got rushing touchdowns in that period to make the final margin 48-17. Burks' first college touchdown capped a 103-yard day, while Conner was 15-of-28 for 212 yards. Anthony Dixon netted just 20 yards on eight rushes.
Did You Know?: These schools have met 15 times on television, either regional or national. LSU has won 13 of these games.
Bulldog Player Notes: DE Titus Brown goes into his senior season with 10.5 career sacks credited. He needs to bag 1.5 quarterbacks more to move into the school top-ten. Brown won the team sack-race as a junior, edging out fellow DE and senior Michael Heard 7.5 to 6.5, and he tied for 5th in the final SEC standings.
*But Brown finished third in the SEC, and 27th nationally, in tackles for loss as he made 14.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage. That was best on the team.
*S Derek Pegues already has a place in the program record book. As a sophomore, Pegues returned two of his four interceptions for touchdowns; not only tying the school season standard but the career record as well, with seven Dogs of the past. Pegues has five career interceptions; nine is needed to move into the career top-ten at State.
*Pegues has the advantage of also doing kick-return duty, where he is on the way to more records. His 57 kickoff returns rank 7th in school history; his 1,246 yards are 5th-most by any Bulldog ever; and his kickoff return average of 21.9 ranks 8th. He owns first and second spots in kickoff returns for a season; 28 in 2005 and 29 last year.
*Pegues set the MSU record for kickoff return yards in a season, with 687 as a sophomore.
*Junior P Blake McAdams has booted the ball 137 times in two years, 9th-most in MSU history. And he has kicked it 3.1 miles in the process.
*LB Jamar Chaney is the team's top returning tackler, having collected 66 total stops as a sophomore (third on the squad for '06).
*Senior WR Tony Burks led the SEC last year with a 24.3-yard per catch average. It was also the second-best such year by a Bulldog receiver, behind only the 25.0 average of Danny Knight in 1982. Burks did tie Mardye McDole (1978) for the MSU record for 100-yard games in a season with five, and his 850 yards on 35 receptions ranks 6th for single-season.
*HB Anthony Dixon became the first Bulldog freshman to lead the team in rushing since 1989, and the first true freshman period to do so, with 668 yards gained in 2006.
*Dixon also set freshman MSU records for rushing touchdowns (9) and attempts (169).
*Despite two injuries and missing five entire games, junior QB Mike Henig was able to throw for 1,182 yards and seven touchdowns in 2006. His TD-to-intercept ratio of 7-to-9 was an improvement from his 2005 total of 2-to-five. His career ratio is still 9th-best in MSU history.
*Henig's receptions averaged gains of 16.2 yards.
*Henig has 1,831 career yards; he needs 2,940 to move into the MSU top-ten. *PK Adam Carlson is one of four SEC booters to not miss a PAT last season. Nor has he missed a point-after in his career, with a 34-of-34 record so far. He is 8-of-16 on field goals for two varsity seasons, with a career-best effort of 47 yards at UAB.
*Senior TE Eric Butler holds the school records for his position with career touchdowns (8) and single-season scores (4). He only caught one TD pass as a junior, though. For three seasons Butler has 42 catches, in 32 games, for 564 yards. *In the first five games of his MSU career, WR Jamayel Smith had four catches and 80 yards. In the last five games of '06 he caught 16 balls for 255 yards and two touchdowns.
*Two Bulldog seniors hold the team lead in career games played. Both TE Dezmond Sherrod and DE Avery Hannibal have gotten on the field in 34 contests through three seasons. That's one ahead of LB Gabe O'Neal at 33.
*But the career-starts lead is shared by TE Eric Butler and P Blake McAdams at 23 games. McAdams has 23 consecutive starts, too, the team-lead; C Royce Blackledge is first among non-specialists with 18-straight starts.
*There are nine redshirt freshmen on the 2007 roster awaiting their first college action: OG J.C. Brigone, WR Alex Carpenter, DL Brandon Cooper, DS Aaron Feld, TE Chris Herrera, TE Brandon Henderson, OT Mark Melichar, DT Reggie Odom, and DE Rodney Prince. And, three redshirted transfers also set to debut: WR Ryan Mason, DL Cortez McCraney, and WR Brandon McRae.
*There are 18 true freshmen on the roster, several of whom will be on the 80-man roster that dresses out for the SEC home game. Last year State played seven true freshmen. And six junior college transfers will definitely be dressed: DT Jessie Bowman, LB Dominic Douglas, DE Jimmie Holmes, CB Chris Nance, CB/S Jasper O'Quinn, and WR Co-Eric Riley. QB Josh Riddell is under team suspension for the opener.