The BCS National Championship game is tonight, SEC basketball starts this week and Dudy Noble Field is prepping for the return of the Diamond Dawgs.
What it all means: Mississippi State’s football season is over.
The 2013 team has already been formed, having their first meeting on Sunday, but right now, we’re going to take a look back at the 2012 version.
I hesitate to call this “inaugural,” because I’d certainly hate to bank on remembering to do this one year from now, but we’ll call this the first ever HailState Beat End of Season Football Awards.
Keep in mind, these honors (and I use that term loosely) are selected by me, Bob Carskadon, and are in no way official. They may also be wildly inaccurate, aided by that poor memory I mentioned. If you disagree, feel free to let me know. If you agree, I’m significantly more interested in hearing about that.
We’ve got 16 categories to roll through from a season which had many stars, several big moments, dozens of milestones and records, plenty of highs and the accompanying lows.
Let’s get started.
Most Valuable Player: Johnthan Banks, senior cornerback
Was there any doubt? His 63 tackles, four interceptions and seven pass break-ups are fine numbers on their own, but his value to the team goes beyond that. When I asked running back Nick Griffin who he’d vote for president, he didn’t hesitate to say “John Banks.” When his teammates needed a leader, they elected Banks one of their captains. When he could’ve left for the NFL last spring, the now-Thorpe Award winner elected to remain at MSU, determined to better himself and his team.
The moment above all which defined his importance to both his team and the Bulldog fans came on, appropriately enough, Homecoming. A UT Martin pass sailed in the air, Banks came up, snatched it out of the sky and took off running to the endzone. He didn’t make it, getting tripped up and tackled along the way. The yelling and excitement of the record-tying interception quickly turned from raucous cheering to deafening silence when Banks laid still on the grass of Scott Field, trainers at his side, the 50,000-plus Maroon-clad fans worrying their nightmare had come true.
An excerpt from my blog the next day: “When Banks stood up and walked off the field on his own, the place went nuts. Like a mother protecting her child, the Bulldog fans were fierce from then on out. You could practically hear his teammates thinking, “You don’t mess with Johnthan Banks.””
MSU went on to win 45-3.
Offensive MVP: Tyler Russell, junior quarterback
In his first year as the starter, the Mississippi-bred passer had, statistically speaking, the best season by a quarterback in MSU history. After two years of the Relf-Coast Offense, the pocket-passing QB was a big – and fun – change for the Bulldogs. Russell completed 58.6 percent of his passes, averaging 222.8 yards per game with 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Defensive MVP: Cam Lawrence, senior linebacker
It may be odd for a defensive player to get team MVP (Banks) and not win the award on his side of the ball, but I don’t think I’m crazy in saying Lawrence may have been the most important player to the success of the defense. Called a coach on the field by, well, his coaches, Lawrence and his facepaint directed the defense, calling run or pass, tracking down QBs and running backs and doing a little trash talking over the line of scrimmage when time allowed. He led the team in tackles for the second straight year with 120 stops, including 10 for loss, four sacks, two interceptions, four pass break-ups and two forced fumbles.
Special Teams Player of the Year: Baker Swedenburg, junior punter
Few names have ever been as great as Baker Swedenburg, but no punters were as good in college football this year. MSU led the nation in punt return yards as Swedenburg averaged 41.1 yards on his 57 punts totaling over a mile of punting (!) with 2,340 yards. He had five of 50+ and dropped 18 kicks inside the 20.
Breakout Player: LaDarius Perkins, junior running back
Plenty doubted Perk’s ability to replace Vick Ballard and his 1,000 yards, but the former change-of-pace back took over as the every-down starter for MSU, racking up 1,024 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 5.0 yards per carry. In addition to running and returning kicks, Perkins tallied another 160 yards and two touchdowns on 19 receptions. Consider the doubters silenced.
Honorable Mention: Darius Slay, senior cornerback
He had to sign with MSU twice and wait a year on the bench, but when he finally got on the field, Slay made a huge impact, leading the team with five interceptions and handling the load coming his way when opposing offenses avoided Banks.
Best Supporting Role: Chad Bumphis, senior receiver
From a numbers point of view, Bumphis leaves Starkville as probably the best receiver ever to put on the Maroon and White. After a slump as a junior, Bump led not only his team but the whole SEC with 12 touchdown catches as a senior, racking up 922 yards on 58 receptions, coming through whenever MSU needed a play and becoming the go-to receiver who helped Russell set so many records.
Heart and Soul: Devin Jones, senior defensive tackle
I hate to use a cliché, but if ever the saying “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog” applied to someone, it’s Jones. Consistently a “Champion” in the weight room, Jones was not only one of the hardest workers on the team, but one of the happiest. He always had an encouraging word or smile, whether it be for a freshman lineman trying to figure things out or a reporter strolling by the locker room after interviews. To use another cliché, you’ll never hear anyone say a bad word about Devin Jones, and there’s a reason for that.
Freshman of the Year: Benardrick McKinney, linebacker
In the SEC, just getting on the field as a freshman is impressive. McKinney managed to become not only a contributor, but a starter in his first season of action, at middle linebacker, no less. Even more than that: he wasn’t just there, he made an impact. Second only to Lawrence, he totaled 102 tackles, including 4.5 for loss, and registered four pass break-ups and a fumble recovery. After a redshirt year, he was the talk of the team in spring and fall. The hype did not disappoint.
Best Interview: Corey Broomfield, senior defensive back
Words, which I’m supposed to be good with, cannot express how sad I am to see Broomfield go. As a reporter, his interviews have been gold for four years. Not only is he personable and candid, he’s incredibly smart. I’ve said for a while now he’ll make a great coach one day the way he breaks down entire offenses, individual players and his own team. He always has a story to relate something to, and often a funny saying. Better than anything is his laugh. Unique, hilarious, infectious and impossible to prevent. I believe I speak for all media in saying we’ll miss having Uncle Broom around.
Just for funsies, here’s a 40-second mash-up of Corey Broomfield laughing: click here.
Best Moment: #WeBelieve
I may be cheating slightly, as this isn’t necessarily a moment, but it’s one of the best showings by a fan base in some time. After a 7-0 start, Twitter, Facebook, business windows, office desks and everything between were covered with signs declaring “We Believe.” Short-sighted ones will say MSU lost the next game to top-ranked Alabama, but that wasn’t the point. MSU and its fans were declaring they believed in their team as people, not just performers. They believed in their university as a family, not just a place to take classes and do research. As much as anything else, it was a declaration of unity and pride. Some would do well to remember that now.
Best Game: Auburn, 28-10
Whether it was a monkey on his back or an elephant in the room, Dan Mullen escaped the proverbial zoo by finally getting his first win in the SEC West over someone other than Ole Miss. Outside of the divisional note, MSU-Auburn had quickly become something of a mini-rivalry in Dan Mullen’s first three years, an early SEC game which, when lost, forced MSU to be working from behind so young in the season. Both Mullen and his players called it the biggest game of the year before the campaign even kicked off, and luckily for them, they got the win and got it big.
Best Drive: First score against LSU, 10 plays, 74 yards, 4:52 off the clock
Going into Death Valley is a monumental task on its own, and facing LSU’s defense is no short order no matter where you are. Starting on their own 26-yard line, the Bulldogs were in a scoreless tie with Tigers. The first play: Russell to Bumphis, no gain, and no optimism. Then, Russell hit Chris Smith 20 yards down the field. There was life. A five-yard run by Nick Griffin on the next play got State across the 50 and into LSU territory. More life. Second and five, Russell’s pass to sophomore Robert Johnson falls incomplete. Third down, MSU was one play away from another punt. Then, redemption for RoJo, as he hauls in a 14-yard gain to get the first down. Another run by Griffin followed by a 12-yard catch by Bumphis moves both the chains and the offense closer to the endzone. Next play, false start. Of course. Barely in field goal range now. Next play, first and 15, Arceto Clark comes up with a 14-yard gain, just short of the yellow line. One yard to go, the sophomore Griffin gets the rock again, pounds it forward four yards to get not only the first, but inside the 10-yard line. From nine yards out, the predictable happened. Mullen sent in freshman quarterback Dak Prescott, who had rushed over and over in short-yardage situations all season. First down, the ball is snapped, Prescott lunges forward out of the shotgun as the entire defense collapses at the line of scrimmage. But then, just as Prescott is about to enter the fray, he pulls up, stands tall, looks ahead and tosses the ball into the air. Every eye, whether in person or on TV, flitted to the endzone, where senior tight end Marcus Green stood remarkably alone, the pigskin falling lightly right into his hands. Six points, Mississippi State, followed by the Devon Bell extra point, giving the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead in Death Valley. It didn’t last, but the hope meant the world immediately after losses to Alabama and Texas A&M.
Best Uniform: Gator Bowl
This one is totally subjective, but it was by far my favorite. The silver pants might be my favorite addition the uniforms this year, and they paired well with the white and silver jerseys used against TAMU. Needing some maroon, the maroon matte helmet (no stripe) stood out on top of the white and silver. The silver facemask paired with the helmet and the white shoes with silver lining (appropriate, yes?) were both nice touches. As long as we’re on this subject, no win or loss, this season or any, had anything to do with uniforms. Missed tackles, touchdown passes, blocking and coaching are what rack up the Ws and Ls.
Best Offensive Performance: Chad Bumphis, Troy
In a game where MSU’s receivers were plagued by drops, preventing the offense from rolling like it should, Bumphis saved the day with six catches and a career-high 180 yards with three touchdowns. The length of Bump’s three scoring catches: 72 yards, 58 yards and 25 yards, the last of which a tip-toe score in the very back of the endzone to seal the win.
Best Defensive Performance: Darius Slay, Troy
For as tough a game as it was for MSU as a team, traveling to tackle the Trojans sure produced some big individual performances. Slay’s line in what may have been his breakout game: two incredibly timely interceptions, six tackles, one pass break-up and a fumble recovery. Without Slay (or Bumphis) MSU doesn’t win this game.
Play of the Year: Malcolm Johnson’s touchdown against Tennessee
There were plenty of plays to consider, but Johnson’s one-handed grab in the back of the endzone was about as impressive as it got this year for State. His coaches and players agreed, no one else could have made the catch where he stretched high into the air to grab the ball and still managed to get the tip of his cleat down inside paydirt. His combination of size and athleticism made the catch possible on a tremendous pass from Russell. And Johnson was barely even able to play, having just been cleared for action after his pectoral injury in the pre-season. MSU’s game against the Volunteers was one of the closest contests of the year, and Johnson’s last minute score sealed the victory for MSU over Tennessee and its high-flying offense.