Premature Preview 2012: Jackson State

Today we begin the annual series in which we take an early look at Mississippi State’s 2012 football schedule. Each Friday for the next 12 weeks – or 13, if I can’t get one posted during my vacation week – we will look at each of this fall’s opponents. Let us begin.

For the second time under Dan Mullen, MSU opens the season against in-state foe Jackson State. It begins a stretch of three non-conference games in four weeks, and it serves as prep for the SEC opener the following week versus Auburn.

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Jackson State Tigers (Sept. 1, in Starkville)

Conference: SWAC

2011 record: 9-2 (7-2, T-1st East Division)

Final ranking: 24th (coaches), 22nd (Sports Network)

Coach: Rick Comegy (41-26, six years)

Returning starters: 16 (7 offense, 9 defense, 0 specialists)

Last meeting: MSU, 45-7 (Sept. 5, 2009, in Starkville)

On the Web: jsutigers.com

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The 58-year-old Comegy has been coaching a long time, and JSU decided to keep him around a while longer. He received a two-year contract extension following last season, through 2013. Last season, the Tigers finished tied for first in the SWAC East Division but did not play in the league title game due to a tie-breaker.

The Tigers were a prolific offense, averaging 35.8 points and 490.9 yards per game. The show was run by quarterback Ryan Therriault, who’s now trying to catch on in the NFL. Senior Dedric McDonald, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound dual threat, is expected to take over the offense. He threw nine passes last season.

Two of last year’s top ball-catchers are gone: Marcell Wilder and Renty Rollins. Rico Richardson is back after catching 37 passes for a team-high 896 yards, and he averaged 24.2 yards per catch. Oh, and JSU is still seeking a new offensive coordinator.

The Tigers do return leading rushers Tommy Gooden (597 yards) and B.J. Lee (348 yards), and four of the five starting offensive linemen are back. So this is a team that’ll need to lean on its defense, and it has an experienced group returning.

Defensive end Joseph LeBeau (6-1, 245) recorded 16 sacks, tying a school record, and he’s the best player on the defense. JSU recorded 38 sacks last fall to tie for second in the SWAC.

The linebackers are led by Milton Patterson, the man in the middle. The 6-1, 235-pound senior made 55 tackles, 11.0 tackles-for-loss and 3.0 sacks last season. Behind him, the secondary is anchored by junior cornerback Qua Cox, who recorded three interceptions and nine pass break-ups.

For MSU, this will of course be a game it’s expected to win handily while working out some kinks and getting warmed up for Auburn the next week. The Bulldogs will probably put up some big numbers, which will create much more hype than it should (see: Memphis, 2011). Ultimately, it fulfills Mullen’s mission to continue playing in-state competition, with the emphasis on in-state.

Next week: Auburn