- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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Today we look at Mississippi State's hopes and concerns as the Bulldogs look to ride their late-season momentum from last fall into the 2011 season:
Biggest reason for hope: The offense could be even better
The Bulldogs ranked fifth in the SEC in total offense a year ago, averaging 401.3 yards per game, but with their main parts returning in 2011, the offense figures to be much improved. Quarterback Chris Relf showed during the latter parts of the 2010 season that he's not only a talented runner, but he can be quite dangerous with his arm. He continued to make strides in the passing game this spring, but was heavily pushed by backups Tyler Russell and Dylan Favre. Both showed they're capable of leading this offense, which is a good thing. Whoever directs the offense will have the luxury of solid depth at wide receiver. Mississippi State returns star Chad Bumphis, but the coaches are convinced Arceto Clark, Chris Smith and Ricco Sanders can be just as reliable. The Bulldogs also return running back Vick Ballard, who nearly had 1,000 yards rushing and had 19 touchdowns.
Biggest reason for concern: Uncertainty at linebacker and no element of surprise
Mississippi State set out to replace three starting linebackers this spring. While the defense performed well in practices under new defensive coordinator Chris Wilson, no one is quite sure how the unit will fare against real opponents this fall. Last year, the Bulldogs ranked fourth in the league in stopping the run (119.1 yards per game), but that was with experience at linebacker. For now, Cameron Lawrence, the most experienced linebacker, will have the job of directing the group. Brandon Wilson and Chris Hughes combined for 30 total tackles last season, but are still a bit unproven. Then there's the issue of everyone knowing what the Bulldogs are capable of. Last year, Mississippi State crept up on a few teams (see Florida on Homecoming) before blowing out Michigan in the Gator Bowl. Teams will be taking the Bulldogs very seriously this fall.