BRAD LOCKE: Is it possible for Mississippi State to regress?

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

In two weeks many of you will venture into the creaky Liberty Bowl, your hearts filled with anticipation of a season that holds great promise.
Mississippi State is a trendy pick to make some noise in the SEC Western Division and appears in most preseason top 25 rankings.
If you’ve been reading my blog, then you’ve seen my 31 Reasons series outlining why MSU will be as good as or better than last season, when it went 9-4 and won the Gator Bowl. There’s a lot to be positive about.
But there is also the other side, the side that the cynic in me will not let go of. It’s the other side of the coin – the grimy side – that MSU fans don’t want to consider: Stagnation, or worse, regression.
I sure don’t expect that, but I’m also a realist who has seen teams like MSU – teams that seem to come out of nowhere and start getting the kind of love they’ve not had in years – crumple under the weight of expectation.
This situation is a little different, because I cover MSU full time and am therefore much more familiar with this program than with any other. So not only do I have a good idea of MSU’s strengths, but also of its weaknesses.
Let’s start with Chris Relf, the quarterback who just two years ago coach Dan Mullen didn’t trust to be much more than a glorified Wildcat back. And with good reason.
Now Relf is considered one of the best QBs in the SEC. His ability as a runner has been well-established, but much of this hype stems from his passing performance over the final three games of last season, when he completed 69.9 percent of his throws and averaged 264.3 yards per game.
That’s great, but Relf did this against some weak defenses, and Ole Miss fans can tell you the perils of using a small sample size to judge a quarterback.
Let’s consider that perhaps Relf has hit his ceiling as a quarterback, that his tendency to be wild might not leave him.
Let’s consider that opposing defenses could figure out a way to slow down Vick Ballard, and that the offensive line he’s running behind will severely miss Derek Sherrod and J.C. Brignone.
Lets’ consider all those holes in the front seven of the defense. The linebackers might well be overmatched against the likes of Alabama and South Carolina and anyone else with big-time running backs, of which there are a great number in the league this year.
Let’s consider the schedule. It’s the SEC. Better teams have been felled by its sword.
MSU might well win nine or 10 games this year, but let’s not forget that expectation and reality do not always match up as we think they should.
Brad Locke (brad.locke@journalinc.com) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.