I was greeted upon my return to work yesterday by the new Phil Steele College Football Preview magazine. Seeing that turn up in my mailbox is one of the highlights of my summer.
So, I've already thumbed through it picking out all the Mississippi State tidbits, and I thought I'd pass them along for those of you who either haven't yet gotten a copy or are too lazy to piece all the info together. The Bulldogs can be found in several places in this year's mag, so let's have a look.
• Steele ranks players at each position, and several Bulldogs made his cut. Not surprisingly, senior cornerback Johnthan Banks ranked highly – he's the No. 2 corner in the country, according to Steele. The man ahead of Banks is N.C. State junior David Amerson, who led the nation with 13 interceptions last season, two of which he returned for touchdowns. Banks had five interceptions.
Banks is also a second-team All-American and first-team All-SEC choice by Steele, and he's third-team All-SEC as a punt returner.
Here's where other Bulldogs rank at their respective positions: OG Gabe Jackson, 10th; KR LaDarius Perkins, 17th; FS Nickoe Whitley 17th; DT Josh Boyd 20th; OLB Cam Lawrence 38th; QB Tyler Russell 40th; WR Chad Bumphis 59th; CB Corey Broomfield 66th.
• Steele also ranks position units, and there's little surprise which ones are included from MSU. The Bulldogs' defensive line is ranked 14th, the defensive backs 23rd, the receivers 24th, and the linebackers 30th. Steele wrote that he thought the D-line underachieved last year and could be improved this fall despite the loss of first-round draft pick Fletcher Cox.
He believes the receivers and offensive line will be improved, while the running game should be "down a few notches" after losing 1,000-yard rusher Vick Ballard.
• On the whole, Steele is pretty high on MSU, putting it 28th in both his preseason top 40 and his power poll. There is a difference between the two, as Steele writes: "My College Top 40 is based solely on where I think each team will finish and NOT how I rate the teams talent-wise."
He also wrote that MSU could be favored in as many as 10 games this season, and deductive reasoning tells me that he thinks State could be favored at home against Arkansas on Nov. 17. Possible, I suppose, especially given how nicely MSU's schedule sets up on the front end. As I've said before, starting 6-1 or even 7-0 is not out of the question.
A very soft non-conference schedule is a big reason for that, with games against Jackson State, Troy, South Alabama and Middle Tennessee. Steele ranks MSU's schedule as 38th-toughest in the nation, and he cites it as a big reason the Bulldogs might do better than last year's 7-6 record.
He predicts a fourth-place finish in the SEC West for MSU, just behind Arkansas, with LSU first and Alabama second.