Mississippi State went 8-5 last year, but they were a legit top-ten team in the country according to essentially every computer and Vegas model in head coach Joe Moorhead’s very first season in Stark Vegas. The Dogs clocked Auburn and Texas A&M despite little in the way of a starting quarterback, mostly thanks to a defense that was the best in the country. Only four starters are back from that dynamite group though, so we’ll see how Moorhead does in year two at the helm.
Nick Fitzgerald was one of the most prolific rushing quarterbacks of the past decade, but the problem was he was just flat out not good at keeping defenses honest due to his 51.6% completion rate. The new starter at the QB spot is Penn State grad transfer Tommy Stevens, who has gotten buzz for a while now despite sitting on the bench in Happy Valley. He isn’t a run first-QB like Fitzgerald was, but he is athletic enough to be a reliable dual-threat option. He’ll be challenged by Keytaon Thompson, who was excellent in the run game like Fitzgerald, but threw at an even worse 46% accuracy rate in two starts after Fitzgerald was benched last year.
The receiving corps returns their top three, but Mississippi State’s passing game was mostly built around deep shots last year, so they’ll need to find some efficient options to go with big playmakers like Stephen Guidry (23.2 YPC).
Last year, the duo of Fitzgerald and RB Kylin Hill (734 yards, four touchdowns, 6.3 yards per carry) in the run game was excellent. I’d expect with Fitzgerald gone for the highly efficient Hill to get more touches and have another great year, especially with three starters back on the line. Backup RB Nick Gibson averaged 7.6 yards per touch in limited opportunities last year, and we’ll see if he can step up as well. With the new OC getting his system in place and potentially a much better passer at the QB spot, I think this offense could actually improve.
The CSD Prime model doesn’t break ratings into offense and defense, but it doesn’t take a computer model to tell you that Mississippi State was probably the best defense in the country last year, allowing just 13.2 PPG and 4.1 YPP while playing an SEC West schedule (and drawing Kentucky and Florida from the East!). Unfortunately, just four starters are back and the Bulldogs lose three first-round draft picks in Jeffery Simmons, Montez Sweat, and Johnathan Abram, but there is still talent throughout the defense.
Four of the top five tacklers from last year are gone, but the one that returns, #2 tackler Erroll Thompson, was excellent. The middle linebacker was great in run support but also consistent in pass rush, bringing in 3.5 sacks and 5.5 TFL. Guys like end Kobe Jones (6.5 TFL) will need to step into bigger roles on the line, and Mississippi State adds in a couple of highly touted freshmen on the inside in Nathan Pickering and Fabien Lovett while also returning Marquiss Spencer from injury.
The unit where this defense will really shine is the secondary. Safety Jaquarius Landrew is a name to watch after three sacks, 1.5 TFL, and five PBUs as a backup, and the pair of corners the Bulldogs bring back is up there with the best in the conference. Cameron Dantzler had 11 PDs, and Maurice Smitherman added in four of his own in limited playing time. The defense will obviously take a step back after a tremendous year, but they should still be very good.
Mississippi State will be a legit top-15 team again, the question is will their record reflect that or will the reality of playing in the brutal SEC West show itself once again. It is still tough, but the schedule is a little lighter on the whole compared to last year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they could hit or even improve on 2018’s 8-5 mark.
|Date||Opponent||OPp. rank||Proj. Margin|
|31-Aug||vs. louisiana (atlanta, ga)||88||14.4|
|26-oct||at Texas A&M||11||-4.3|
Average Projected Record: 7.7 wins, 4.3 losses (4.2 wins, 3.8 losses)