Countdown to kickoff: Hello, Mississippi State

GeauxTigerNation writers Gary Laney and David Helman get you ready for the season with a daily breakdown throughout August of what LSU is facing in the fall, from its opponents, to its road trips to who it's recruiting. Today, David Helman talked with the Clarion-Ledger's Brandon Marcello in a preview of this season's matchup with Mississippi State.

Q: If you look at the Bulldogs' schedule, Mississippi State could be set up for a hot start before games against Alabama and LSU. Does the softness of the schedule give fans hope for a statement season?

When you look at that schedule, State can start maybe 6-1 or 7-0 -- if not that then at least 5-2. The only team in the first seven games that went to a bowl game last season is Auburn. I know it's early, but that game is kind of the pivot point. If they can knock off Auburn, it becomes even more important going down the stretch, because they play Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M and Arkansas toward the end of the season, which is just a murderer's row. They're hoping to get some momentum going so they can contend with LSU and Alabama.

Q: Mississippi State's offense really faltered in 2011, especially a passing attack that averaged just 181 yards per game. Will the return of quarterback Tyler Russell and wide receiver Chad Bumphis help fix that?

Last year they really struggled after starting the season hot offensively. They hit a skid and a lot of that had to do with the offensive line. They had a couple of injuries and they had to move some guys around. They've got talent but not a lot of experience. If they can get those guys going and get some momentum, the offense is bound to improve.

Q: State lost Fletcher Cox, a top 15 draft pick, from a defensive line that only registered 27 sacks last fall. Can the Bulldogs overcome that loss to improve the unit as a whole?

They lost Fletcher Cox and they've got to find that replacement. I think they'll replace the production, not from the middle, but off the edge. This year they bring in junior college transfer Denico Autry and talented freshman A.J. Jefferson to help out at defensive end. Mississippi State really missed a true pass rushing defensive end last season, and that should make them a little more productive. What hurt them last year was that they couldn't find a consistent pass rush and that hurt them in the secondary.