Today we review the fourth SEC team in our series, the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Other reviews so far:

Kentucky

Ole Miss

Vanderbilt

Biggest Loss

 Vick Ballard. For much of the season, as Ballard went, so went the Bulldogs, who won only one game when he failed to average five yards per carry (Louisiana Tech), and lost only one when he rushed for over one hundred yards (Auburn). Ladarius Perkins will be expected to pick up his workload, but won’t have the benefit of Chris Relf that Vick Ballard did. Likewise, Tyler Russell will take over at quarterback, but will be missing the reliable Ballard to help him out.

Most Important Returning Player

Johnathan Banks. The Bulldogs were terrible in pass coverage last season, finishing eleventh in the league in defensive passing yards, but Banks did his part: five interceptions, 14 passes defended, and 8 tackles for loss. With Fletcher Cox now leaving an NFL-sized hole on the defensive line, pass coverage will need to hold a bit longer, and Banks will be counted on to take away half the field.

Highest Ranked Recruit

Nick James. James is a locally grown defensive tackle the Bulldogs hope can fill Cox’s outsized shoes. Defensive coordinator Les Koenning exited the spring with starters at both DT spots, so the 6’4″ 330 lb. freshman won’t be required to contribute right away, but he’ll likely see the field sooner rather than later, and a redshirt is pretty  much out of the question.

Most Important Off-Season Acquisition

I honestly have no idea. They maintained a coaching staff. Recruiting reaped a solid, but not otherworldly class, and of them, only two enrolled early. If you’ve noticed a pattern with the teams we’re previewing, you’ve figured out we are picking Miss State to finish sixth in the West this year. When they effectively finished in that spot last season and have made little substantial changes to the staff or schemes, it’s hard to predict significant improvement.

Biggest Game

I’m calling this one a tie. Texas A&M is an immediate need. For all the success Dan Mullen has had in Starkville, he has yet to beat an SEC West team not named Ole Miss. With the Aggies joining the division this season, Mullen will need to pickup this win just to stay four teams back in the division. To add to the pressure, the game is in Starkville. There will be no shortage of media remarks asking how the Ags will handle the cowbell noise. If A&M treats it like everyone else does, people in Starkville are going to begin to question if Mullen can really backup all of his talk of division championships.
Beating Auburn in week two, however, would cure a lot of ills, and it’s a possibility. The Bulldogs nearly beat the Tigers last year in Auburn — a game State dominated statistically, but came up a yard short of winning on the scoreboard. If losing ground in the West is the concern with A&M, failing to gain any has to be the issue with Auburn. The Tigers are replacing both coordinators, and at least one if not both of those changes won’t be superficial. The Tigers will likely struggle on offense early in the season, and if week two isn’t early enough, it’s hard to think the Bulldogs are ever going to get a better shot with Mullen there.

Projected Record

Jackson State Tigers – W

Auburn Tigers – W

@Troy Trojans(no, seriously) – W

South Alabama Jaguars- W

@Kentucky Wildcats – W

Tennessee Volunteers – L

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders – W

@Alabama Crimson Tide – L

Texas A&M – L

@LSU- L

Arkansas – L

Ole Miss – L

Final Record – 6-6