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2021 SEC Football Season Preview: Mississippi State Bulldogs

State started riding high...and then careened towards the end. What will 2021 bring to this team?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 19 LSU at Mississippi State Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2020 at a Glance

Record: 4-7
SRS: 3.94
SOS: 8.67

2021 Schedule

(All times are Eastern)

9/4: Louisiana Tech (4 p.m., ESPNU)
9/11: NC State Wolfpack (7 p.m., ESPN2/ESPNU)
9/18: at Memphis (8 p.m., ESPN2)
9/25: LSU
10/2: at Texas A&M
10/16: Alabama Crimson Tide
10/23: at Vanderbilt Commodores
10/30: Kentucky Wildcats
11/6: at Arkansas Razorbacks
11/13: at Auburn Tigers
11/20: Tennessee State
11/27: Ole Miss Rebels

Overview

Mississippi State couldn’t have asked for a better way to start their 2020 season. With Mike Leach at the helm, the Bulldogs stomped reigning CFB Playoff Champion LSU out en route to a victory that sent some early shockwaves around college football. But success can be fleeting, and in the case of State, that was their peak last year.

The team stumbled their way into losing seven of the ensuing 10 games they played. The Bulldogs eclipsed 24 points only once more that season — the final regular-season game of the year against Mizzou. The defense was oftentimes porous and the offense heavily inconsistent. Some might say it was a rollercoaster, others may compare it to a log flume.

2021 will hopefully bring better fortune to Starkville. But it might be an uphill battle. The Bulldogs have just one player who made the Preseason All-SEC team: offensive lineman Charles Cross, who is represented on the Third Team. Will Rogers is likely to be quarterback, at least according to Leach who spoke on the matter last week. Austin Williams is the returning leader at receiver, though he only amounted 372 receiving yards in the shortened 2020 season. Jo’quavious Marks is also still here, and he has big shoes to fill as Kylin Hill is no longer around to set the pace. Defensively? Well, the team will hope to improve upon how they performed a year ago when they allowed over 120 rushing yards and 389 total yards per game.

Biggest Questions

Thanks to Alex Gomez of For Whom the Cowbell Tolls for answering our questions!

1. Last year was a rollercoaster for Mississippi State to say the absolute least. What are the keys in your opinion for State to get some sort of stability on the field this year?

Alex Gomez:

I think the biggest thing has already happened. This offense takes time due to the precision it takes to execute. The spring and summer ball, in my opinion, will make all the difference in the offense. I still think we are a year away from being someone teams worry about in the SEC, but we will still compete in some unexpected games this year.

2. With no more Kylin Hill, who is poised to be the star of Mississippi State’s offense this year?

Alex Gomez:

I think there are so many different answers that would be correct here, as many players have to step up. The most obvious answer is the QB1. Will Rogers has to be the guy that makes the correct read on these option-like plays. Every route has an option based on the defense’s line-up and coverage. He is going to have to navigate through that and look to make the correct read and throw. If that was too obvious, I’ll go with a more surprising pick: the center. It is a tight race to see who starts but they play an important role in this offense. With such wide splits, it is up to the center to really hold up those big boys in the middle.

3. There’s a lot of experience and depth on this defense. Should State fans and their peers in the SEC expect to see any improvement on this side of the ball?

Alex Gomez:

I think that more reps in a complex 3-3-5 defense helps everybody. I think Eroll Thompson will be missed up the middle, but so many freshman started on that side of the ball last season, it gives us a great advantage. The best defensive coordinator in the game will be calling the plays, and I think it makes them scary. I look for us to be top 10 in the country once again and close to that every year we have Zach Arnett.

Projection

Christopher Novak: State has an absolutely brutal start to the season. While I think they take care of LaTech, going into games with NC State, Memphis, LSU, and Texas A&M thereafter is a pretty rough go. I think 2-3 feels right, and then Bama off the bye week feels like another loss for them. With some tough games after the ‘Bama one, right now my gut instinct is telling me 5-7 for Mississippi State. There are some swing games that could get them up to a max of eight, but 5-7 feels right.

Alex Gomez: Mississippi State has one task this season: Win games you are supposed to and steal one or two more. The main thing fans want is to compete. After three straight years of watching stagnant offense, we have got to move the ball. I think we will, at least more efficiently than last year, and mess around and win 8 games. They win 6 for sure and surprise an Auburn, Texas A&M, or LSU. This football team showed signs of brightness last year, and I imagine them picking off right where they left off.