Time: Saturday, September 2, 3 p.m. CT/4 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Watch Online: WatchESPN
For only the second time under head coach Dan Mullen, the Mississippi State Bulldogs finished the year under .500 last season.
The 6-7 campaign in 2016 did end on a high note, with the Bulldogs winning the St. Petersburg Bowl over Miami (OH). Promise was found under center in Nick Fitzgerald, who returns as one of the SEC’s best gunslingers.
Fitzgerald and the Bulldogs will get their first shot on Saturday in trying to make things right in 2017. They’ll welcome the Charleston Southern Buccaneers to Starkville to kickoff the new season. The hope is that they avoid a repeat of last year, when the Bulldogs dropped their opener to the South Alabama Jaguars.
Losing the opener has become something of a scary-ish trend. They’ve split their last four openers, with the ghoulish loss at home last year coupled with a defeat at the hands of Oklahoma State a few seasons ago.
State will simply be looking to avoid losing their third opener in five years. With an FCS opponent on the schedule, that should allow this to happen easily.
There’s not too much to say about what should go right for Mississippi State to win this game. Bill Connelly’s preview for State indicates they have a win probability of 93% to win this game. The projected margin is nearly 26. It’s a near certainty that they’ll win the game. It’s the surest of all games on the schedule besides UMass on November 4 (91%).
What will be interesting to see in this game is how the defense fares. There’s a new defensive coordinator patrolling in Starkville, but one that’s a familiar face to SEC fans. Todd Grantham was hired in the offseason to replace Peter Sirmon. Sirmon, interestingly enough, went to where Grantham was before the State job - Louisville.
Grantham’s defenses have typically fared well. By S&P+, his tenure at Louisville went something like this: 12th, 21st and 19th. Opposite that, Mississippi State’s went like this from 2014-2016: 22nd, 38th and 73rd. None of Grantham’s defenses finished outside the Top 25, while State’s defenses went through a downward decline that grew sharper from 2015 to 2016.
After running multiple last year, Grantham will have a 3-4 defense installed as he typically does. Given that much of Mullen’s tenure has featured 4-3 defenses, there will be a bit of a transition.
This game will provide an opportunity to see how that transition is doing against a ‘cupcake’ opponent in Charleston Southern. There’s talent on the defense to be sure. Jeffery Simmons and Leo Lewis are good youngsters to start off with, but youth is the story on this team. Much of the front line is gone and some of the linebackers are, too. More of the reason why this game will be something of a stepping stone for the Bulldogs in Week 1.
So, essentially, this shouldn’t prove to be nothing more than a walk in the park.
The offense returns a lot, although star receiver Fred Ross has departed. The line looks a little bit different too. But with Fitzgerald, Aeris Williams, Donald Gray, Malik Dear and Keith Mixon and Farrod Green, State’s offense should be able to get their licks in.
The defense, as mentioned, will be something to watch here. Luckily, they should get some confidence against Charleston Southern.
Prediction: Mississippi State 45, Charleston Southern 14