Mississippi State preview

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen and his players celebrate their 2011 Gator Bowl win over Michigan

We continue our preview of  LSU’s 2011 football opponents and the rest of the Southeastern Conference with a look at Mississippi State. We’re counting them down one a day through July 16.

Mississippi State Bulldogs (7 p.m. Sept. 15, Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field, Starkville, Miss.; ESPN)

2010 Record: 9-4 (4-4 SEC)

Bowl: Beat Michigan in the Gator Bowl, 52-14

Coach: Dan Mullen (14-11, 3rd year at MSU)

Starters returning: 9 offense, 7 defense

Top returners: Passing – QB Chris Relf (129 of 220, 1,789 yards, 13 TDs, 6 INTs); Rushing – RB Vick Ballard (186 carries, 968 yards, 19 TDs); Receiving – WR Chad Bumphis (44 catches, 634 yards, 5 TDs); Tackles – SS Charles Mitchell (93 total tackles, 3 TFLs)

Noteworthy: Expectations are at a full boil in Starkville after the Bulldogs’ best season since 1999 (10-2), heated up by the Gator Bowl dismantling of Michigan and Mullen’s decision not to pursue a more high-profile job. His new four-year deal pays $2.65 million/year, more than doubling his salary. … Ballard led the SEC in touchdowns in 2010 (19 rushing, 1 receiving), and Relf has steadily improved at quarterback. … Linebacker is a concern, but Clemson transfer Brandon Maye is expected to step right into the starting MLB role. … LSU has won 11 straight over MSU, 18 of the last 19 overall and nine of the last 10 in Starkville. … The Tigers kicked off their 2007 BCS championship season with a 45-0 Thursday night win at Mississippi State. This one will be on Thursday night as well. … It’s been 70 years since MSU’s only SEC championship (1941). State won the SEC West in 1998 but lost the SEC Championship Game to eventual BCS champion Tennessee.

– Scott Rabalais

Tuesday: West Virginia