HOOVER, Ala. — Tyler Russell's presence at Southeastern Conference media days is one of the most obvious indications that Mississippi State is confident with its new starting quarterback.
Fourth-year coach Dan Mullen said Wednesday that he picked Russell as one of his three representatives because he expects the 6-foot-4 junior to have "a huge year." Russell threw for 1,034 yards and eight touchdowns as a part-time starter last season.
This year, the job is his.
"We've tried to make of a point of guys who we expect to be in a leadership role, bring them (to media days), and make sure they know what they're getting themselves into over the season," Mullen said.
And Russell was front and center.
He'll lead a rebuilt offense that has several new starters along the offensive line and at running back. He said he'll lean on a veteran group of receivers and the things he's learned from Mullen and previous starting quarterback Chris Relf over the past few years.
"It's really easy for me," Relf said. "I have a lot of weapons and all I have to do is get the ball in the playmakers' hands and everything should take care of itself."
Mississippi State has a fairly manageable schedule through the first seven weeks of the season, including a crucial Western Division game against Auburn in the second week. The Bulldogs have a 3-12 record against the west during Mullen's three-year tenure, with all three of those wins coming against Mississippi.
Mississippi State has won two straight bowl games, including last year's victory over Wake Forest in the Music City Bowl. But to take the next step as a program and contend for an SEC title, it's obvious the Bulldogs must have some success against Alabama, Arkansas, LSU, Auburn and Texas A&M.
"We have won a couple of bowl games," Russell said. "But you ask a lot of players on our team if that is a successful year, they would tell you no, just because we hold high expectations for ourselves."
Mullen believes he's laid the groundwork to finally push the Bulldogs into the upper echelon of the SEC.
The Bulldogs should be very strong on defense, returning seven starters from last season. That includes a seasoned secondary led by senior cornerbacks Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield. Banks has 12 career interceptions, which ranks second in school history and fourth nationally among active players.
Banks came out of nowhere his freshman year — picking off two passes against Florida and Tim Tebow in the Swamp in 2009. He's been improving ever since, and will anchor the Bulldogs this fall after deciding to return for his senior season instead of going to the NFL.
He said he hopes his growth as a player will be mirrored by the team.
"Confidence is the biggest part of football," Banks said. "If you're out at corner and don't have any confidence, that's a bad deal for your team. You've got to be confident and have a little swagger."