By LEE ADAMS
The key to offensive success in the Mississippi State Bulldogs spread offense is the quarterbacks.
The quarterback position is something head coach Dan Mullen knows a lot about and has a track record of producing great ones out of the programs he's been involved with.
Mullen even has his own way of rating quarterbacks.
"How I rate quarterbacks is are you winner or not a winner, because as a quarterback you have to make the plays to win the games," said Mullen. "You don't know when that play's going to be, but you've got to manage the offense, do your job and every once in a while, you're going to have to step up and do something special."
Trying to do that something special for MSU in 2011 is senior quarterback Chris Relf.
Relf started all 13 games for the Bulldogs in 2010 and threw for 1,789 yards while completing 129 of 220 pass attempts. Although he had a good year through the air, he also had a good year on the ground as he rushed for 713 yards on 194 carries. As the season came to a close in 2010, Relf only got better throwing for 569 yards and six touchdowns in the final two games. Relf was also chosen the Most Valuable Player of the 2011 Gator Bowl.
Even though he finished the season strong, he has been working to improve his passing game.
"I'm working on my quickness and my ability to throw the ball," said Relf. "I'm just out there working hard on my throwing game."
Relf is entering his last season in the maroon and white and wants to leave State in winning fashion.
"I want to do everything I possibly can to win," said Relf. "I go out and try to lead the guys every day to accomplish something we've never accomplished."
Some of the players he is leading is his fellow quarterbacks and during fall camp, State had five players taking snaps including Relf.
With Relf pretty much locked in as the every game starter, the two guys fighting for the number two spot on the depth chart is Tyler Russell and Dylan Favre.
Russell saw playing time in nine games last season and threw for 635 yards while completing over half of his passing attempts. He was most impressive in the Bulldogs 2010 season opener when he threw for 256 yards and four touchdowns. Despite his playing time last year, Russell is being challenged by Favre, who was redshirted last season. Favre was the 2009 Gatorade Player of the Year in Mississippi. He has yet to see any real in game action, but that could change this season.
Russell might have a slight advantage over Favre in the fight for the number two spot.
"Tyler has some experience so I don’t have to force him onto the field," said Mullen. "If we go to Dylan, if he’s going to be one of our guys or he’s our number two, I have to force him in and play some two-quarterbacks because he needs experience."
Russell's experience doesn't give him the number two spot, but Mullen seems to think he will play Russell at some point this season.
"Tyler played a lot last year, if he is the No. 2 guy, we’re not forced to try to get him on the field," said Mullen. "We just play him where he deserves to play, where we need him to play.”
Other quarterbacks who took snaps during the fall camp was Dak Prescott and Sam Cowart, but the Relf, Russell and Favre that have the potential of seeing some playing time this season. However, Relf is scheduled to be the starter.
Relf doesn't take being the starter for granted and he works hard to remain the number one guy.
"My hard work has got me where I am today," said Relf.
His hard work hasn't gone unnoticed as some are comparing him to Mullen's former player at Florida, Tim Tebow..
"Now that Chris has experience you can see why he's being compared to guys like Tim Tebow or Alex Smith," said Mullen.
Relf doesn't seem to put much emphasis on any comparisons , and is more focused on reaching goals.
"I just want to win at Mississippi State," said Relf. "Our goal is to win every game we play this year."
That is something that Mullen likes to hear as he defines the role of the quarterback as "you have to do what it takes to win," so the Bulldogs will try to reach their goal of winning the SEC West on the shoulders of Relf.