By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
This time last year I wrote a column about the importance of Chris Relf making a good impression at SEC Media Days. The expectations this time around are markedly higher.
Relf will be part of the Mississippi State contingent here today – Day 1 of the 2011 SEC Media Days experience – and by now everybody is familiar with the senior quarterback and his body of work. It’s not a huge body of work, but it’s enough to get him noticed.
In 2010, Relf commanded an offense that was MSU’s best of the decade, and one of the most prolific in school history. He was a competent passer and punishing runner, and this year he’s expected to be an even better passer while still bowling over defenders.
Relf is arguably one of the top three returning quarterbacks in the SEC. I’m not sure if that speaks more to the dearth of QB talent than to his own talent, but he’s on the watch list for the Davey O’Brien Award, which goes to the nation’s top signal-caller.
He is charged with taking Dan Mullen’s spread offense to yet another level, to keep the momentum going. Relf is in an unusual position: He’s an MSU quarterback of whom great things are expected.
It’s no secret that State hasn’t exactly been Quarterback U. There have been some good ones scattered throughout the years, but none recently. Since 2001, MSU has been ranked 76th or worse nationally seven times in passing offense.
Only twice the past decade has State’s passing offense outranked its passing defense: 2003 and last season. Which brings me to an intriguing possibility.
Onus on offense?
MSU has long prided itself on fielding a good defense, even during tough seasons. Despite a 3-8 record in 2005, the Bulldogs were 29th in the country in total defense. The 2002 team, which was 3-9, had the third-best pass defense in the country.
And you all remember 2007, when the defense carried MSU to an 8-5 record and Liberty Bowl win. It wasn’t an aesthetically pleasing team, but it got the job done.
This season, it could be the offense carrying the day. There are concerns at defensive end and linebacker, and while the secondary is considered strong, it’s essentially the same bunch that gave up 237.8 yards per game (91st in the country) a year ago.
MSU ranked 86th in passing offense last season (186.5 yards per game), but Relf finished the season strong. Over the final three games, including the Gator Bowl win against Michigan, he completed 69.9 percent of his passes for 793 yards and six touchdowns.
You’ll recall that much of last year’s preseason talk concerning Relf focused on his breakout Egg Bowl performance, and so it’s natural to think that his finishing flourish of 2010 will translate into even more heroics this fall. By all accounts, he has continued to get better as a quarterback and a leader.
Under Mullen, MSU’s offense as a whole has steadily improved. That’s been due in large part to the running game, and that should again be a strong point. So Relf should feel no more pressure to perform than he did last year, unless he lets these new expectations weigh down on him.
The ability is there. Say this aloud: By season’s end, Chris Relf could be considered one of the best QBs in school history. Heady stuff. Can he handle it?
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal. he blogs daily about Mississippi State athletics at NEMS360.com