Mississippi State Bulldogs
Head Coach: Joe Moorhead
2018 Record: 8-5, 4-4 Conference
Bowl: 22-27 Loss to Iowa at Outback Bowl
O/U 7.5 wins (O -165, U +135)
To Make Final 4: +30000
Mississippi State finished with a respectable eight wins in 2018, but the first part to improve will be faring better than 4-4 against its SEC foes. The team needs a better pas offense, and it needs to develop week-to-week consistency. While many of the SEC teams improved and made that portion of the schedule much tougher, the Bulldogs faltered with losses to Kentucky and Florida, both of which should have been winnable games. It is easier to excuse the losses to LSU and Alabama, but improvement in the SEC heads the list of goals for this season.
The Bulldogs should ideally be a good running team this year, but the same was said last year. Kylin Hill and Nick Gibson are both good backs, and the offensive line is strong despite losing two key starters. Darryl Williams moves to center from left guard, and Stewart Reese moves from right guard to right tackle. The interior of the line should be strong at creating holes for Hill and Gibson. Again, “should” is the operative word here.
The Bulldogs also have some solid options at QB. It is likely going to be junior Keytaron Thompson. He averaged 6.8 yards-per-carry over his career, but he throws at just a 47.4 percent completion clip. Redshirt freshman Jalen Mayden and true freshman Garrett Shrader are both in the mix at quarterback, and they will see time if Thompson cannot get it done with the passing game. Wide receiver remains a bit of a mystery, though, where the Bulldogs have Stephen Guidry and Osirus Mitchell. Both had 300-plus yards, but neither ranked in the top 30 of the SEC. Cameron Gardner and Austin Williams are behind them in the depth chart, and either or both could find themselves starting if the production is not much better this season.
The Bulldogs led the NCAA in yards per play allowed due to two elite defensive linemen and an excellent secondary. There will not be much falloff this season as defensive coordinator Bob Shoop looks to a host of new talent to add to what returns. Chauncey Rivers is a JUCO transfer who will be the edge playmaker instead of Montez Sweat, who departed. The interior of the line is where the improvement has to come. Linebacker will be strong with no losses from last year’s group, which includes the return of Erroll Thompson.
Safety was the best part of the secondary last year, but this year it will probably be the cornerbacks that steal the show. Cameron Dantzler was superb last season as a sophomore and the experience should make him even more formidable this year. Marcus Murphy and Jaquarius Landrews are probably not the best blitzes, but both will offer premium ball coverage. Mississippi State has to get more from its linebackers than it did a year ago, but this defense overall is quite strong.
Jace Christian hit 11 of 13 Field goals and has not missed a single PAT while at MSU. Kody Schexnayder is solid too, and he occasionally filled in for Tucker Day last year. But MSU was among the worst punting teams (No. 110) and averaged just 38.9 yards per punt. Corliss Waitman and Reed Bowman transferred to MSU and that should help the team at least have a few more options. It also has to replace its long snapper for the second straight season, but there are two JUCO transfers ready for the duty.
The defense should be as strong as a year ago, but the offense really has to improve for this team to take any real steps forward. It struggled on the road last year, and that has to change, and consistency has continued to prove elusive. The schedule will prove tough as soon as SEC play begins, and if it cannot manage to beat at least two of the first four SEC teams it faces, disaster could loom. Kentucky, Auburn, Tennessee, and LSU are the first four teams it faces in conference play.
Prediction: 6 wins (under)