There are many reasons to believe Mississippi State will equal or exceed last season's success – 31 reasons, in fact. Here's Reason No. 5.
Josh Boyd and Fletcher Cox are possibly the best defensive tackle combo in the SEC. They're not just hole-pluggers, they're athletic guys who can get to ball carriers and quarterbacks.
They played key roles as freshmen, drawing a handful of starts each, and were full-time starters last season. Now juniors, they are expected to anchor a defensive line that has some questions at defensive end. Plus, three new starting linebackers will be lining up behind them.
Over two seasons, Boyd and Cox have combined to make 99 tackles, 17.5 tackles-for-loss and 6.0 sacks. (Breakdown: 41, 7.5 and 2.5 for Boyd; 58, 10.0 and 3.5 for Cox.) I did a story on the two in December, and former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said then that Boyd and Cox "absolutely have to be our best players (in 2011)" and added that "they have to be great for us to be a good defense."
They seem ready to step up to that responsibility. Cox has gotten a little more attention, earning second-team all-SEC preseason honors from both the coaches and media; Boyd made neither team. But Diaz said in December that Boyd was on a "steadier climb" while noting that Cox has had to deal with some injuries (he missed one game last year).
Phil Steele ranks Cox and Boyd as the 28th- and 29th-best defensive tackles in the country, respectively. That's an appropriate juxtaposition, as the two are constantly pushing each other in practice and the film room. They're roommates and often discuss their common goals.
One of those goals, according to Cox: "[W]e want to be two of the best in the country."