BRAD LOCKE: With structure falling into place, time for MSU football to deliver

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

On Tuesday morning, athletics director Scott Stricklin sent out a batch of photos via Twitter showing the progress being made on Mississippi State’s Leo Seal Jr. Football Complex. The 80,000-square foot facility is beginning to take form, its skeleton pretty much in place and awaiting the skin.
The complex is expected to be completed soon after the 2012 football season ends.
What kind of program will be moving into it?
Coach Dan Mullen called last season “one of the most important seasons in school history.” But this fall could be more critical in answering the question I just posed.
The Bulldogs went 7-6 last season with a Music City Bowl win over Wake Forest. A so-so season. But MSU didn’t digress as a program, and that’s what Mullen, who’s entering his fourth year, meant by it being such an important season.
Now, however, the Bulldogs must move forward from mediocrity. Spring practice is not the best time to make sweeping judgments about a team, but I’ve seen a lot to like thus far.
The offense should more resemble what most fans envisioned when Mullen arrived after leading Florida’s potent attack for four seasons. The numbers have been up since the Sylvester Croom era, sure, but that’s not saying much.
MSU was eighth in the SEC last season in scoring (25.5 points per game), sixth in total offense (355.1 yards per game), sixth in rushing offense (168.8 ypg) and sixth in passing offense (186.2 ypg). So-so.
The pieces are in place for this group to do something more. Tyler Russell hasn’t put up great numbers, but I’ve seen enough of him to know that he can be an elite SEC quarterback.
I don’t want to get into too much position analysis, but I’ll just say that I like the overall quality and depth of this team, with the exception of the offensive line – but I see potential at that position.
This team has the proper structure in place, just like that football complex. Mullen’s project is far from finished. Before it’s complete – or as close to complete as a program can be – some additions need to be made.
Aiming higher
The Bulldogs need to win more in the Western Division. Ole Miss is the only West team it’s defeated during Mullen’s tenure.
State needs to earn a higher-tier bowl bid. It needs to produce more players like Fletcher Cox, the defensive tackle who left MSU a year early to become a surefire first-round pick in the NFL Draft.
The defensive line needs to strike real fear into opposing offenses, something it’s not done much of in recent years. It certainly has the potential, even without Cox, which is another key: Not letting personnel losses like that set you back.
Once Mullen and his Bulldogs move into the $25 million Seal Complex, they’ll at least have the appearance of being a big-time program. All that’s left to do is make that a reality on the field.
Brad Locke (brad.locke@journalinc.com) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at DJournal.com.