By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen will take his turn at SEC Media Days on Wednesday. Here are 10 topics he’ll likely be asked about:
• West wins: Mullen is 3-12 against SEC Western Division teams, with those three wins all coming against rival Ole Miss. That first hump has been Auburn, and those teams meet Sept. 8 in Starkville.
• Russell No. 1: Tyler Russell is finally the No. 1 quarterback. Coaches believe he has the ability to be a consistent passer.
• Ballard gone: Vick Ballard, who rushed for 1,189 yards last year, must be replaced at tailback. Three or four players are expected to fill the role.
• Chad Bumphis: The senior receiver hasn’t lived up to the hype he generated at Tupelo High School. He leads a deep, experienced receiving corps and finally has a QB with strong passing skills, so this could be Bumphis’ year.
• Fast start: MSU’s schedule is very navigable until the end of October. Its first seven games include all four non-conference contests (Jackson State, Troy, South Alabama, Middle Tennessee), plus two winnable SEC home games (Auburn and Tennessee) and a trip to lowly Kentucky.
• Tough finish: The back end of that schedule is a doozy. A trip to reigning national champion Alabama is followed by Texas A&M at home, at LSU, Arkansas at home, and at Ole Miss.
• Defensive line: MSU lost tackle Fletcher Cox to the NFL (first round, Philadelphia), but Josh Boyd is back and junior college transfer Denico Autry is expected to be a strong rush end. It’s a deep group.
• Johnthan Banks: The senior leads one of the SEC’s top cornerback units, and the All-American candidate is five interceptions away from breaking the school’s career record of 16 (Walt Harris). Banks is also a strong punt returner.
• Middle linebacker: Youngsters Ferlando Bohanna and Benardrick McKinney are vying for this opening, and they’ll likely end up sharing snaps. Teammates have compared the rangy McKinney to former Bulldog linebacker K.J. Wright.
• Tight ends: Starter Malcolm Johnson is out with a mystery injury – Mullen won’t say what it is, and he won’t say how long Johnson is out. If he misses games, then oft-injured Marcus Green must step to the fore. He recently received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA.