By DANNY P. SMITH
It's going to be very important for the Mississippi State Bulldogs to start the football season strong.
Mississippi State needs to make a statement at Liberty Bowl Stadium Thursday night against Memphis.
The Bulldogs must set out to prove that last season's success was no fluke.
MSU is coming off one of its best campaigns in years by achieving a 9-4 record and won the Gator Bowl impressively 52-14 over Michigan.
There are quite a bit of high expectations for the Bulldogs coming into this season, and rightfully so, because there are 15 starters returning (eight on offense, seven on defense) from last year's squad. MSU is ranked 20th in two of the major polls (the USA Today Coaches and The Associated Press).
Sometimes high hopes can be diminished and a situation can snowball in a negative direction with a couple of unexpected losses early.
Not to enjoy bringing up any bad memories for the Bulldogs, but take the 2008 season for example.
MSU had quite a bit of talent returning from a bowl-winning team in 2007. The Bulldogs went 8-5 in Sylvester Croom's fourth year as the head coach with one of those being a 10-3 win over Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl.
MSU brought back starting quarterback Wesley Carroll, running back Anthony Dixon and several other offensive starters for the 2008 season. Linebacker Jamar Chaney came back as one of the leaders on defense.
When the Bulldogs made the short trip over to Ruston, La., to play Louisiana Tech in the first game of the season, nothing went right. They lost a 22-14 decision and Chaney in the process with a season-ending leg injury.
State could never recover from that disappointment and finished the season with a 4-8 record and Croom lost his job after a 45-0 loss to Ole Miss in Oxford.
As a reminder, Louisiana Tech just happens to be back on the schedule this season for the time since that embarrassing loss.
The Bulldogs don't need to look ahead to that game on Sept. 24 because there are games at Memphis, at Auburn and at home against LSU first.
On paper, there's nothing to suggest that Memphis should give MSU any trouble. The Tigers only won once last season and were dominated in several games, including a 49-7 loss to the Bulldogs.
So far under head coach Dan Mullen, MSU has opened the last two seasons strong, outscoring opponents 94-14.
Mullen takes the approach in first games that the focus shouldn't be so much on the opponent, but on the Bulldogs themselves.
It's the unknown factor that can be so dangerous.
"We've watched a little bit of film on Memphis and you can pick up certain formations," MSU wide receiver Chad Bumphis said. "You never know what to expect. They may have changed their entire defense."
With the Bulldogs playing on the Thursday night stage and a Fox Sports Net South audience watching, there will be many eyes across the nation tuning in and forming an opinion.
An impressive showing by MSU will be a key in turning some heads early.
Danny P. Smith is sports editor and columnist for the Starkville Daily News. The opinions in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily News or its staff.