Here we go, our first installment of this annual feature, where we take a close-up look at each of Mississippi State's 12 football opponents for the 2011 season. We'll do this every Friday from now through the end of July, except for my vacation week.
To recap, the Bulldogs went 9-4 last season (4-4 SEC), beat Michigan in the Gator Bowl (52-14) and finished No. 15 in the final Associated Press rankings (No. 17 in the coaches poll). They open the season against what was one of the worst teams in the country in 2011, and must do so at the Liberty Bowl. MSU's hope is that all that FAIL does not rub off.
Memphis Tigers (Sept. 1, in Memphis)
• Conference: Conference USA
• 2010 record: 1-11 (0-8 C-USA, 6th in Eastern Division)
• Final ranking: Not ranked (unless you count this, in which case, yay, Tigers are No. 1!)
• Coach: Larry Porter (1-11, one season)
• Returning starters: 12 (4 offense, 5 defense, 3 specialists)
• Last meeting: MSU, 49-7 (Sept. 4, 2010, in Starkville)
• On the Web: gotigersgo.com
Year 1 of the Porter Era could've been worse, I suppose. Well, OK, maybe not. But the Tigers did beat Middle Tennessee State, somehow.
No telling if it gets any better. Of particular concern is the quarterback position. Starter Ryan Williams transferred out after passing for 2,075 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions as a freshman. His backup, Cannon Smith, is still a ne'er-do-well and has been moved to defensive back. So the leading candidates at QB this spring were Ryan Summerlin and Will Gilchrist, both sophomores who have taken a combined zero Division I-A snaps.
Expect the Tigers to rely pretty heavily on the running game, which is where Jerrell Rhodes comes. He was second on the team in rushing last year with 469 yards on 116 carries (4.0 ypc) and a touchdown. Rhodes, a 5-foot-10, 215-pound sophomore, had a really good spring and was named the top offensive player in the annual Blue Gray spring game. He'll be running behind a line that lost three starters.
It will be hard for the Memphis offense to be any worse. Just look at last season's numbers and how the Tigers ranked nationally (out of 120 teams):
• Rushing offense, 91.58 ypg (116th)
• Passing offense, 193.42 ypg (81st)
• Total offense, 285.0 ypg (117th)
• Scoring offense, 14.42 ppg (119th)
Defensively, Porter likes his linemen. Leading that group are 350-pound Dontari Poe (good heavens) and 265-pound lightweight Frank Trotter. Poe is a two-time all-conference pick, while Trotter led the D-line last year with 80 tackles and 16.5 tackles-for-loss.
But, statistically, Memphis was just as bad on defense as offense last year. More numbers:
• Rushing defense, 171.92 ypg (81st)
• Pass efficiency defense, 174.13 rating (120th)
• Total defense, 460.67 ypg (115th)
• Scoring defense, 39.83 ppg (117th)
I'll just stop there. Yikes. But on the bright side, they've got this guy. Maybe Porter should recruit Australia more heavily.
Up next: Auburn