Mississippi State Bulldogs
Head Coach: Dan Mullen
2014 record: 10-3 overall, 6-2 SEC West
2014 Postseason results: Lost to Georgia Tech 49-34 in the Orange Bowl
2015 returning starters: 4 offense, 3 defense
Odds to win 2016 College Football Championship game: 90/1
Odds to win 2015 SEC Championship Game: 35/1
Odds to Win 2015 SEC West Division: 21/1
Regular season wins: over 7 -130 / under 7 +100
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Last season, the Mississippi State Bulldogs started off the season 9-0. However losses to rivals Alabama and Ole Miss kept them out of the SEC Championship game. The 10-2 Bulldogs would have to settle for a berth in the Orange Bowl, where they were beaten 49-34 by Georgia Tech. Losing three of the last four games put a little bit of a damper on what had been a fantastic season until that point.
This year only 7 starters are back for coach Dan Mullen so a backslide is expected. In fact, Athlon Sports picked Mississippi State as the 21st best team nationally but last in the extremely loaded SEC West.
The Bulldogs were #8 nationally in total offense at 514 yards per game, including 281 passing and 233 rushing yards. Mississippi State was #23 nationally in both rushing and passing. The Bulldogs averaged 37 points a game which was #18 nationally. Still only four starters are back for co-coordinators billy Gonzales and John Hevesy.
Quarterback Dak Prescott completed 61.6% of his passes for 3,449 yards with 27 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, and also had 210 carries for 986 yards and 14 touchdowns. He is back for his senior season, and is arguably the best quarterback in the SEC. The position is deep for the Bulldogs with junior Damian Williams and redshirt freshmen Nick Fitzgerald & Elijah Staley waiting in the wings.
Running back Josh Robinson had 190 carries for 1,203 yards with 11 touchdowns, along with 28 catches for 370 yards and a touchdown. Robinson is now with the Indianapolis Colts. Ashton Shumpert is back after rushing for 274 yards on 47 carries with 2 touchdowns. He will compete with freshmen Dontavian Lee, Aeris Williams and Malik Dear for the ste starting job. All four could split the carries.
Receiver De’Runnya Wilson is back after making 47 catches for 680 yards and 9 touchdowns. Junior Fred Ross had 30 catches for 489 yards and 5 touchdowns as a sophomore. Slot receiver Jameon Lewis is gone after making 32 catches for 380 yards and 2 touchdowns. Tight end Malcolm Johnson is now with the Cleveland Browns after making 28 catches for 380 yards and 3 touchdowns. Darrion Hutcherson takes over as the new tight end. Joe Morrow had 17 catches for 344 yards and 4 touchdowns and is also back. Gabe Myles and JUCO transfer Donald Gray will also get a lot of targets.
Only two starters are back on the offensive line, including left tackle Justin Senior and right guard Justin Malone. It is unclear who will start at center because all three centers on the roster graduated last year. An already thin unit took a hit when guard Kent Flowers decided to transfer.
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Mississippi State had a bend but don’t break defense in 2014. The Bulldogs allowed 424 yards per game on offense including 273 passing yards. MSU was #86 in total defense and #117 in pass defense out of 128 FBS teams. Still, the Bulldogs were #23 in points allowed at just 22 per game.
Coordinator Geoff Collins left to take the same position at Florida. Mullen hired former Texas DC Manny Diaz away from Louisiana Tech to be the new coordinator. Only three starters are back on defense for the Bulldogs.
Senior defensive end Ryan Brown has the unenviable task of replacing Preston Smith (15 tackles for loss, and 9 sacks) who is now in the NFL. Tackle Chris Jones might be the most talented player on defense for MSU but didn’t start last year. He still got plenty of playing time.
Outside linebacker Beniquez Brown is back and was second on the team in tackles last year. Benardrick McKinney is now in the NFL. He was the best player on the defense last year. Talented redshirt freshman Gerri Green will likely replace him in the middle.
Cornerback Tavese Calhoun is the only returning starter in the secondary. He started all 13 games but missed spring practice with an injury. He is expected to be healthy by the start of camp. Freshman safety Jamal Peters was a highly touted recruit and could start immediately. The secondary has to improve in 2015 with so many new faces on both sides of the ball.
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Kicker Evan Sobiesk made 12 of 14 field goals in 2014, but left the team to go to dental school. Punter Devon Bell will likely handle both the kicking and punting jobs. Gray will return kicks and Fred Ross will return punts.
The Bulldogs open the season at Southern Miss. MSU then hosts LSU and Northwestern State before closing September at Auburn. October is a lot easier with a road game at Texas A&M, plus home games against Troy, Louisiana Tech and Kentucky. In November, the Bulldogs travel to Missouri and Arkansas, and host Alabama and Ole Miss.
With only seven starters back and a difficult schedule Dan Mullen has his work cut out for him in 2015. I think six or seven wins sounds likely and maybe 8 if the Bulldogs can pull off an upset or two.
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