Mississippi State, listed 63rd in S&P+ returning production, will bring back 13 starters highlighted by the dynamic Nick Fitzgerald at quarterback. Fitzgerald was actually the 2nd leading rusher (1,375 yards) in the SEC last season and set an SEC record for 100 yard rushing games by a QB (8). He only completed 54% of passes and lost his best receiver from last year, but that should improve drastically despite the valid concerns about their existing receiver group (see Tebow and Dak for what Mullen does for QBs in college) Aeris Williams, who came on strong toward the end of the year, should be an effective counterpart in the typical run heavy Dan Mullen offense. The Dawgs only return 2 starters on the offensive line so this group has a lot to prove outside of LT Martinas Rankin.
On the defensive side, Todd Grantham takes over at Defensive Coordinator after previous stints at Louisville and Georgia. Grantham, who was actually hired by Nick Saban to coach the DL at Sparty in 1996, will be tasked with turning around a horrendous defense that allowed 32 points per game and over 6 yards per play in 2016. Their pass defense was 120th in the nation, but they do bring back 3 starters and will also get the services of senior CB Tolando Cleveland back after he missed 2016 due to injury. Maybe Chauncey Rivers (yes, that one from "Last Chance U") will arrive in Starkville and help the secondary by generating consistent pressure.
Expected Win Totals
CW Projected Total Wins: 5.4
CW Projected SEC Wins: 2.2
Posted Total Wins: O 5.5 -140
Home Field Advantage: 2.7
Opening Power Rating: 51
|Sep 2||Charleston Southern||Mississippi St.||-20|
|Sep 9||Mississippi St.||LA Tech||1|
|Sep 16||LSU||Mississippi St.||11.5|
|Sep 23||Mississippi St.||Georgia||-9|
|Sep 30||Mississippi St.||Auburn||-16|
|Oct 14||BYU||Mississippi St.||1|
|Oct 21||Kentucky||Mississippi St.||1|
|Oct 28||Mississippi St.||Texas A&M||-6|
|Nov 4||UMass||Mississippi St.||-18|
|Nov 11||Alabama||Mississippi St.||24.5|
|Nov 18||Mississippi St.||Arkansas||-5.5|
|Nov 23||Ole Miss||Mississippi St.||-4|
|Legend: After bye week / Overlook Watch / B2B road games / Neutral site|
The Season Win Total of 5.5 (juiced to the over) is pretty close to my projection so I see no value. However, the timing of the Egg Bowl may prove beneficial to State since scholarship limitations could affect the Rebels' depth by the end of the season. There is a decent chance this game determines the outcome of the Bulldogs season win total in addition to their Bowl eligibility. Shop around as the Egg Bowl Game of the Year opened PK, but has since jumped to Missisippi State -7 or taken off the board. Scoop any reposted lines at a Touchdown or less.
I will definitely also invest in Mississippi State at +10 or better against LSU. The last 3 games in this series have been decided by a combined 10 points as State defeated LSU three years ago by 5 points and have lost the last 2 meetings by a combined 5 points. I expect another tight game as a young LSU team heads to StarkVegas for their first road game of the season. Expect cowbells.
Mississippi State has lost 9 in a row to Alabama only scoring more than 10 points in 1 of those 9 games, including a combined deficit of 82-9 over the last 2 seasons.
There are three potentially very tricky situational spots on the schedule. September 9th at La Tech which should be a shootout and major test for a questionable Bulldogs defense with LSU on deck. October 14th vs BYU which is a potential letdown spot after a tough 3 game SEC stretch (LSU, Auburn, Georgia) although it is at least after a bye. November 4th vs Umass which is a prime lookahead spot as Mississippi State hosts some school named Alabama the week after.
Donald Gray (WR) - Donald Gray steps into the number 1 WR spot to replace the departed Fred Brown. Mississippi State will need to get something out of their receivers to balance out their explosive rushing attack. Gray will need to do more than average 2 catches per game in SEC conference play as he did last season.
Gerri Green (LB) - Todd Grantham defenses are characterized by aggressive attacking pressure to create mistakes. Mississippi State will need to generate pressure off the edge for his scheme to succeed. Grantham will be relying on the veteran Green as a key contributor to the pressure he wants to get on opposing QBs.
Unders are 11-3 the last 14 times Miss State has been a home underdog which will occur this season against LSU and Alabama (and possibly Kentucky and/or BYU)
It all goes right if…
They reverse a recent trend and flip close losses into close wins; Cowbell had 4 losses by a combined 13 points in 2016 (South Alabama, LSU, BYU, Kentucky). Mississippi State will need a large improvement in their kicking game, a major weakness in recent seasons, if they want to start winning the coin flip contests. They did narrowly escape Miami of Ohio by 1 point in the St. Pete Bowl thanks to a blocked field goal. If that is a sign of things to come in close games, then Mullen will have Mississippi State bowling for an 8th straight year.
It all goes wrong if…
Nick Fitzgerald gets hurt. Yes, I am aware that you can say it will go wrong for almost every team if their starting QB goes down. However, the risk of injury is much higher for Mississippi State in a run heavy read option offense especially if the OL is not giving him time when they do try to throw (only 2 starters up front return). The 2nd string QB is Keytaon Thompson who is their QB of the future, but only a true freshman and then a walk on behind him. Mississippi State needs a healthy Fitzgerald or else they could very well finish alone in the basement of the SEC for the first time this decade.
Mississippi State -7 or better vs Ole Miss
Mississippi State +11 vs LSU
For more, check out the full SEC Conference Preview.