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SEC Football Preview 2014: The Mississippi State Prediction Requires Some Explanation

There are reasonable objections to projecting the Bulldogs to have a very good season this year. Here are some attempted answers

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

A fair request is a fair request. So when someone lays out a coherent argument for me to rethink putting Mississippi State ahead of Ole Miss, it's worth answering. LAndSharkRebel did just such a thing in the comments to the Ole Miss preview post, so I'll answer some excerpts of that here.

- I know they return 16 starters, but those 16 starters were 2 plays from 4-8. One against Arkansas that should have lost them the game and another against Ole Miss. ...
- They lost 4 NFL caliber players off said team that almost went 4-8.

This gets at the heart of one of the main reasons for optimism in Starkville: There are a lot of returning starters for Mississippi State this year. But if the returning starters aren't all that good, it isn't necessarily a reason to see a step forward for Mississippi State. Or at least there's a reason to doubt the step forward.

And those two games aren't the only one-score games Mississippi State had. Bowling Green and Kentucky were within one score of the Bulldogs. All of that's fair enough, but it's also worth noting that none of the FBS non-conference teams on Mississippi State's schedule this year is likely to be as good as Bowling Green was last year. None of them are likely to be as good as Oklahoma State.

No, I don't think Arkansas is going to be better than Mississippi State this year (the Bulldogs visited Little Rock in 2013), and I don't think Kentucky will be either. Those are all my opinions.

Part of any prediction in college football, in particular, is making projections on where you think teams are going to be the following season. This gets back to something Year2 said on Twitter today:

I think it's fair to say this: Dak Prescott could be a very good player this year. Emphasis on could. I do think the talk of Prescott as a Heisman dark horse is way overdone at this point. The thing is, he doesn't have to be a Heisman dark horse for Mississippi State to have a better record than they did last year. He does have to improve a great deal against FBS defenses, but it wouldn't be unprecedented for a second-year starter to improve at least a decent amount now that he's back. It's a projection, but not one that's outside the realm of what's reasonable.

As for the Bulldogs losing "4 NFL caliber players" -- yes and no. They lost one drafted player, Gabe Jackson. The other three were undrafted free agents. And LaDarius Perkins didn't really have a huge impact on the team last year. That's not to say that Perkins, Charles Siddoway and Nickoe Whitley won't be missed, but there's a different between losing four upper-round draft picks and losing one solid draft pick and three guys that NFL teams are willing to take flyers on.

- The best team Mullen has beaten was an 8-4 Florida team.

True. But that's the thing: Ole Miss is the only team I've projected at 8-4 that I have State defeating. (More on that in a moment.) The schedule is kind to Mississippi State this year. The only lackluster teams on the Bulldogs' slate that I think might exceed my expectations enough to cause problems for State are Vanderbilt and Texas A&M -- and both play in Starkville.

- We get State at home where the home team generally wins and last season, we played the single worst game that we played all season and State barely squeaked it out in overtime.

I've referenced this before, but another thing that anyone faces when doing predictions is making some picks that you aren't 100 percent sold on -- because the season is never going to play out exactly like you expect it to. I honestly see that game as pretty close to a coin flip. I had to go with one or the other, and in this case I went with Mississippi State. Your choice might be different. That's what makes the offseason so much fun.

Place: 4th in the SEC West
Record: 9-3, 5-3 SEC
Could be: 6-6 to 10-2
Best chance for an upset: AUBURN
Bowl: BELK
9.6.14 | UAB | WIN
9.13.14 | at SOUTH ALABAMA | WIN
9.20.14 | at LSU | LOSS
10.4.14 | TEXAS A&M | WIN
10.11.14 | AUBURN | LOSS
10.25.14 | at KENTUCKY | WIN
11.1.14 | ARKANSAS | WIN
11.15.14 | at ALABAMA | LOSS
11.22.14 | VANDERBILT | WIN
11.29.14 | at OLE MISS | WIN