The opening game of the 2011 college football season for two teams on opposite ends of the college football spectrum kicks off with non-conference action this Thursday evening September 1 (8:00pm ET) with the 20th-ranked Mississippi St. Bulldogs (9-4 in 2010) of the SEC taking on the Memphis Tigers (1-11 in 2010) from Conference USA in Memphis, TN. The Bulldogs led by coach Dan Mullen, look to start their season off strong as they have high hopes to improve upon last season and contend for an SEC West title in Mullen’s 3rd season at the helm.
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Mississippi St. is led on offense by returning starter Chris Relf, a senior who threw for 1,789 yards and 13 TDs and ran for 713 yards and 5 more TDs a year ago in his first season as a starter. The Bulldogs also return running back Vick Ballard, who posted 968 rushing yards and 19 TDs on the ground in 2010 for an offense that pounded the ball on the ground with 217.7 YPG, good for 16th best in the country. They must replace two key offensive lineman in center J.C. Brigone and left tackle Derrick Sherrod from their strong unit upfront a year ago. The Bulldog defense was stingy against the run with only 199.3 YPG allowed on the ground, 15th in the nation with 19.8 PPG allowed. The Bulldogs must replace their entire line backing group, and may display the same level of aggressiveness on defense that we saw last season with some young players added to the mix.
Memphis will enter head coach Larry Porter’s 2nd year knowing that things can only get better after the first year of his tenure. The Tigers have their work cut out for them in this game as they struggled badly on both sides of the ball in 2010, ranking 119th out of 120 teams in points scored with 14.4 per game and 117th in points allowed with 39.8 per game. Skylar Jones, a transfer from Wake Forest and a dual-threat QB, could be the quarterback when the Tigers take the field, but whoever is under center will be a new face for Memphis. Wide receiver Marcus Rucker posted 41 receptions for 704 yards and 8 TDs ion 2010, if the Tigers have a QB that can get him the ball, they can certainly help their cause a great deal. Porter indicated that Memphis will look to open things up more on offense this season, running more spread offense plays than last season. They will have to open things up if they hope to compete after their woeful showing on offense a year ago. The defensive line figures to be stronger than last season, with junior defensive tackle Dontari Poe the top player on the unit.
The Bulldogs won the last meeting between the two teams in September of 2010 by a score of 49-7. The under is 11-5 in MSU’s last 16 games against Conference USA and 17-8 in their last 25 games overall as a favorite. Memphis is 2-5-1 ATS in their last 8 games overall.
Mississippi St. vs. Memphis Spread, Line and Betting Odds:
Mississippi St. Bulldogs -29.0
@ Memphis Tigers +29.0
Over 50.0 (-110)
Under 50.0 (-110)
Miss. St. vs. Memphis Prediction for Thursday Evening Game:
The Bulldogs are clearly the superior team, and even on the road against what should be an improved Memphis squad they should win going away. Expect MSU to have their way with the Tigers on offense behind a punishing ground game that includes a very mobile QB. A key to look for is whether Relf will be given the opportunity to throw more than he did last season and allowed to exploit the beleaguered Memphis secondary (288.8 YPG allowed passing in 2010). If he takes to the air early, this game could be over by halftime and that will allow MSU to run the ball at will in the second half and bleed the clock as they begin the 2011 season with a win going away on the road.