There are many reasons to believe Mississippi State will equal or exceed last season's success – 31 reasons, in fact. Here's Reason No. 11.
As much talk as there's been lately of Chris Relf's improvement as a passer and the growth of MSU's receiving corps, it might be easy to forget just how good of a running team State is. It should again be among the best in the SEC and the nation this fall, and the offense's success will hinge largely on rushing production.
You know the key players: Senior tailback Vick Ballard, sophomore tailback LaDarius Perkins, and Relf, who's as big or bigger than most back-seven defenders. Those three rushed for a combined 2,247 yards last season, led by Ballard's 968. Only Auburn had a more productive trio in the SEC, with Cam Newton, Michael Dyer and Onterrio McCalebb racking up 3,376 yards.
So that means MSU has the most productive rushing trio returning, and then you throw in senior Robert Elliott (221 yards). Plus, Mullen likes to occasionally get receivers (Chad Bumphis, Michael Carr, et al.) involved in the running game via sweeps or the wildcat.
The Bulldogs will be running at folks from all kinds of angles and with differing styles. Ballard gets most of his yards between the tackles but has enough speed to burn you (three of his school-record 19 rushing TDs were 50-plus yards), while Perkins is the speed guy who's surprisingly strong on inside runs. Relf, well, he's a freakin' truck.
If the passing game is indeed improved, that should make the running game all the more fearsome.
Hey looky, a chart-type thing showing MSU's rushing success the past five years:
• 2006: 95.2 ypg
• 2007: 137.2 ypg
• 2008: 100.6 ypg
• 2009: 227.6 ypg
• 2010: 214.9 ypg