This weekend brings us an intriguing showdown between the Big 12 and SEC as the Kansas State Wildcats visit the Mississippi State Bulldogs. The game is set to get started at noon EST on Saturday, September 14 at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Mississippi. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.
Oddsmakers are listing the Bulldogs as 8-point favorites at home. The over/under for the game is a modest 48 points. Be sure to check out a full list of the Week 3 college football odds.
Both teams come into this game at 2-0. Kansas State is fresh off a 52-0 drubbing of Bowling Green last week. That was after the Wildcats had an easy win over FCS opponent Nicholls State to begin the season. So far, things are going well for Chris Kileman, who is in his first season at K-State after leading North Dakota State to four FCS national championships in a five-year span. However, the honeymoon is likely coming to an end with a trip to SEC country this week and Big 12 play getting underway against Oklahoma State next week.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are off to a 2-0 start in Joe Moorhead’s second season in charge in Starkville. Mississippi State was actually in a close game the first week of the season against Louisiana-Lafayette, as they let a comfortable lead dissipate in the fourth quarter. But the Bulldogs had no such problem last week, beating Southern Miss by a comfortable 38-15 margin. Moorhead and company would love to keep that going with SEC play getting started next week.
It’s worth remembering that these two teams played each other a year ago. The Bulldogs invaded the Little Apple and came away with a 31-10 win. Both teams are a little different this year, especially since Kansas State has a new head coach. But that game could be an indication of the uphill battle the Wildcats face this week.
To be honest, this is a tough game to pick because we don’t know much about Kansas State. They’ve played two weak teams and haven’t come close to being challenged. We also don’t know how well the new coaching staff will be able to answer some of the questions the Wildcats faced heading into the season. Ultimately, I’ll stick with my policy of favoring the SEC team in these kinds of toss-up games, especially with Mississippi State being the home team.
Of course, throwing a wrench into the game is the status of MSU quarterback Tommy Stevens. He left last week’s game with what was called an upper-body injury. It’s sounding optimistic with regard to Stevens playing against Kansas State, but it’s something to be aware of leading up to the game. Stevens has been awfully impressive early in the season, giving Mississippi State the best pure passer at the quarterback position they’ve had in several years.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding Stevens, I still feel comfortable with the Bulldogs. Backup Garrett Shrader performed well in relief of Stevens last week. While MSU would prefer Stevens, they should be in good hands if Shrader has to play. More importantly, the Bulldogs have an excellent rushing attack behind Kylin Hill. Through two games, Hill is averaging close to eight yards per carry. Even against a couple of mid-major programs, Hill has looked great and is capable of carrying the Mississippi State offense when they need him.
Of course, the biggest X-factor in the game is the Kansas State defense. In the past, the Wildcats have been solid on that side of the ball, and there’s no reason to think that will change under Kileman. But even with a lot of veteran players on that side of the ball, it’s tough to know if the Wildcats are ready to face Mississippi State after not coming close to being challenged in their first two games. The K-State secondary, in particular, had some questions heading into the season. That could be a weakness that the Bulldogs are able to expose, especially if Stevens is able to play.
Meanwhile, I’m not sure if the Kansas State offense will move the ball consistently against the MSU defense. Again, the Wildcats haven’t been challenged, so facing Mississippi State on the road will be a huge step up in competition. The good news for the Wildcats is that Ball State transfer James Gilbert and North Carolina transfer Jordon Brown have filled the void after losing all of their top rushers from 2018. But the Wildcats are a little light at wide receiver and I’m still unconvinced that quarterback Skylar Thomas can move the ball against high-level defenses.
In the end, I feel more comfortable leaning toward Mississippi State because I know more about them. I wouldn’t rule out Kansas State beating the spread or even winning the game. But the Wildcats remain a mystery. After MSU beat K-State by three touchdowns on the road last year, I feel good about the Bulldogs covering eight points at home.