Tyson Lee smiles when he's asked to describe the difference between new Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen's spread offense and other schemes Lee's led before.
The quarterback loves to talk about this new offense. Loves to play it even more.
"Options, you know what I mean?" Lee asks. "More options."
There are four or five receivers out there for the quarterback lined up in the shotgun with a back on either side _ sometimes both. With all that space out there, it's easy to see the mismatch, and make the defense pay.
Mullen helped the Florida Gators win two national titles as an assistant using that offense. Lee hopes to use it to wipe away memories of a lackluster 4-8 season that ended with an embarrassing 45-0 loss to rival Mississippi and the forced resignation of coach Sylvester Croom.
The Bulldogs are picked to finish last in the Southeastern Conference, but Lee, Mullen and a re-energized fan base expecting miracles are confident there will be a little sizzle in Starkville. The nation's fourth-youngest head coach has been rewiring the demoralized Bulldogs in the offseason and hopes to get off to a fast start.
"I think they're learning to win," Mullen said. "We spent this offseason teaching them how to win as an attitude."
There hasn't been a lot of winning in Starkville lately, thus the gloomy outlook. The Bulldogs have won more than four games just once since 2000 and their 1998 Southeastern Conference Western Division title is a distant memory.
Croom got an early pass because of NCAA probation, but was done in by a lack of production from his conservative offense. Athletic director Greg Byrne went looking for a coach proficient in the spread offense, hoping to fill seats and the win column by following the latest trend.
The school has built an advertising campaign around Mullen, trying to "Spread the Excitement," and it seems to have worked. Season ticket sales set a record, more than 31,000 attended the spring game and players have clearly sipped the Kool-Aid Mullen is offering.
"Everybody bought into coach Mullen's system," wide receiver Brandon McRae said. "All that stuff that happened last year is in the past. We've forgotten about all that. I think we're going to have something like eight wins this year. I think it's going to be an amazing year."
Few outside observers agree with McRae, though. They point at the personnel difference between the defending national champions and Mississippi State. Issue No. 1? Mullen is moving from the SEC's biggest quarterback, Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, to one of college football's smallest in the 5-foot-11, 201-pound Lee.
Chris Relf, Lee's immediate backup, completed 2 of 9 passes last season and neither is viewed as the long-term answer. But no one's sure if incoming freshman Tyler Russell is ready to play against the nation's toughest defenses.
Mullen won't help sort out things, either. He says he may play all three.
"Big, small, fast, slow, strong arm, weak arm, whatever," Mullen said. "Leadership and winning's the key component."
The same can be said about all those other positions fans aren't obsessing over. Croom left behind a solid core of talent, though it's more suited for a bruising style of play.
Middle linebacker Jamar Chaney returns after missing all but a game last season with a broken leg. He lines up with outside linebacker K.J. Wright, strong safety Charles Mitchell and incoming defensive end Pernell McPhee in what still should be a pretty formidable defense.
Mullen says he will adapt his finesse offense to the personnel he has, and that means finding a way to take 235-pound tailback Anthony Dixon out of the I formation and still get him the carries a workhorse back needs.
Dixon's heard the criticism of the Bulldogs' roster all offseason, and believes he'll have an answer once the season starts Sept. 5 against Jackson State.
"I hear a lot of people say we ain't got no Percy Harvin, and things like that," Dixon said. "Well, I feel like they ain't got no Anthony Dixon, you know. I feel like I can run the spread just as good as he can run it."