STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) -- Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill needed all of about five seconds to describe why No. 15 Mississippi State has moved from the bottom half of the Southeastern Conference to contending for the Western Division title.
"They've really improved their throwing game," Stockstill said.
It's a simple explanation, but also quite true. The once ground-bound Bulldogs are now able to throw the ball with some of the SEC's best, thanks to a breakout season from first-year starter Tyler Russell.
He'll lead Mississippi State (6-0) against Middle Tennessee (4-2) on Saturday in a non-conference game at Davis Wade Stadium as the Bulldogs try to continue their best start since 1999.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior from Meridian, Miss., has thrown for 1,382 yards, 12 touchdowns and just one interception this season. He spent two seasons as the backup for Chris Relf in 2010 and 11, and has seamlessly stepped into the starter's role.