The third week of the 2013 season will give Auburn a chance to end its 10-game SEC losing streak, as Dan Mullen's Mississippi State Bulldogs visit the Plains. To find out the current -- wait for it: *state* -- of the program in Starkville, we sent a few questions to Metal Building Dawg, who writes for SB Nation's Clanga blog, For Whom the Cowbell Tolls.
College and Magnolia: What's the attitude on Dan Mullen in Starkville? After a nine-win season in 2010, State hasn't been able to break through with a big season. Are fans growing impatient? Do the recent NCAA sanctions affect anyone's opinions?
Metal Building Dawg: I would say some MSU fans are getting impatient, and by that I mean 10-15% and they are probably all under 25 years old. For a realistic Mississippi State fan who remembers all the years of losing prior to Jackie Sherrill or during the Croom years, what Mullen is doing at State is really great. It's a lot harder to build a program at MSU - it takes time and I think most fans realize that. I personally blame our pathetic compliance department and lack of confidence from our fanbase for the NCAA sanctions. If we were more like Auburn in those regards we wouldn't have gotten them.
CaM: How's the offense going to look in 2013? With only five returning starters, which new names could make a big impact?
MBD: We actually have 8 returning starters on offense: Tyler Russell (QB), LaDarius Perkins (RB), Malcolm Johnson (TE), Blaine Clausell (LT), Gabe Jackson (LG), Dillon Day (C), Tobias Smith/Justin Malone (RG) and Charles Siddoway (RT). The 3 we lost were all WR. Malcolm Johnson was injured for the first half of the year in 2012 so he wasn't able to have the impact he could have as a sophomore but he should as a junior. I'm looking for Robert Johnson at WR to have a breakout season as well. Overall, I think the offense will focus a little more on the run this year and could be slightly better. The offensive line should be among the best in the SEC.
(Not sure where we got five. Thanks for setting us straight. - ed.)
CaM: What about the defense? Will the Bulldogs be better than they were in 2012? Are any players primed for a breakout season?
MBD: Geoff Collins will take over as DC this year. The hope is he will bring a more aggressive approach to take advantage of all the talent we have on the defensive line. Big time recruits Quay Evans and Nick James will be sophomores this year and I think they could make a much bigger impact in '13. The biggest weakness will be at cornerback where we replace Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay - both 2nd round draft choices. The LBs should be pretty strong. I think this D has about the same talent level as last year, we are just hoping the improved scheme and coaching will step the level of production up.
CaM: What's State's biggest strength this year?
MBD: The offensive line, and probably the running game. The entire 2-deep of the O-line return along with the top 4 running backs and Brandon Holloway comes in as a redshirt freshman with a 'Onterio McCalebb' type of skill set.
CaM: Its biggest weakness?
MBD: The secondary lost 3 seniors including Banks and Slay. Also State lost the entire receiving corp. Those two groups are huge question marks going into fall camp. There is some young talent but experience will be a factor, especially for the September Auburn game.
CaM: What are your early thoughts on the Auburn game? Does your gut tell you to expect a win or a loss?
MBD: It's really hard to tell with y'all having a new coach. Right now I think it's a 50/50 toss up. I think Auburn might have better top end talent but MSU has developed some pretty solid depth. Last summer there was a huge emphasis on the Auburn game and it paid off on the scoreboard. It's not the same this year, but this is another early season game to focus on. I fully expect another great game similar to 2010 and 2011 between these two.