The Mississippi State Bulldogs put together another solid campaign in 2017. The Bulldogs couldn’t quite topple heavyweights like Georgia, Auburn, and Alabama. But they obliterated LSU early in the season and ended up finishing 9-4 after beating Louisville in the Taxslayer Bowl.
However, longtime head coach Dan Mullen was poached away by Florida after the season. Mississippi State hired Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead to take over. Moorhead’s only previous head-coaching experience was at Fordham, so he’s in a whole other world in the SEC West.
That being said, Moorhead was 38-13 in four seasons at Fordham before becoming a coordinator at Penn State, so he’s not completely out of his depth. That experience should prove useful, as Moorhead will be expected to win right away. With a senior quarterback and a large group of starters returning, expectations are high in Starkville ahead of the 2018 season.
Oddsmakers are giving Mississippi State plenty of respect. The Bulldogs are +8500 to win a national title. Those odds make them the perfect dark horse for betters looking to get a little adventurous. At the same time, they are only projected to win 8.5 games. When you consider the strength of the SEC West and a new coaching staff, the Bulldogs could easily fall short of that. Mississippi State’s season could go any number of ways, making them hard to predict.
One safe assumption is that Nick Fitzgerald will be one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC. Fitzgerald is a brilliant runner who should be healthy after suffering a brutal ankle injury late last year. The Bulldogs also return 1,000-yard rusher Aeris Williams. With four offensive line starters returning as well, State’s rushing attack could be among the best in the country.
Of course, the Bulldogs will have to find some balance offensively. However, Fitzgerald is not yet an accomplished passer. Mississippi State is also lacking proven commodities at wide receiver. That’s usually not a great combination. Nevertheless, Moorhead could look to use Williams in the passing game until some of the team’s younger receivers are ready to establish themselves as viable playmakers.
On the defensive side of the ball, State will have to adjust to its fifth coordinator in five years, which is always a challenge. Fortunately for the Bulldogs, they return seven starters, giving their defense a chance to improve from last season. Defensive end Montez Sweat may be among the best pass rushers in the SEC. Mississippi State also features several potential game-changers at linebacker and safety, giving the defense plenty of upside.
Despite all the talent on the Mississippi State roster, it’s difficult to see how it all comes together with a new coaching staff. Some fancy Fitzgerald as a possible Heisman candidate, and if that comes to fruition, the Bulldogs could be a legitimate sleeper in the College Football Playoff conversation. At the same time, Moorhead is unfamiliar with an unforgiving SEC, so things could go south quickly if he’s not able to adjust.
|Sep 1||Stephen F. Austin State Lumberjacks||7:30 PM|
|Sep 8||@ Kansas State Wildcats||12:00 PM|
|Sep 15||Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns||7:30 PM|
|Sep 22||@ Kentucky Wildcats||12:00 PM|
|Sep 29||Florida Gators||1:00 PM|
|Oct 6||Auburn Tigers||1:00 PM|
|Oct 20||@ Louisiana State Tigers||1:00 PM|
|Oct 27||Texas A&M Aggies||1:00 PM|
|Nov 3||Louisiana Tech Bulldogs||1:00 PM|
|Nov 10||@ Alabama Crimson Tide||1:00 PM|
|Nov 17||Arkansas Razorbacks||1:00 PM|
|Nov 22||@ Mississippi Rebels||7:30 PM|
Mississippi State’s schedule is far from easy. The Bulldogs have a difficult non-conference game the second week of the season at Kansas State. A crossover game with Florida in late September could be equally tricky, as Mullen will know the Bulldogs personnel inside and out.
After a September that features some potential pitfalls, the Bulldogs will begin the SEC West portion of its schedule. Road trips to LSU, Alabama, and Ole Miss will be no picnic. The Bulldogs also face tough home games against Auburn and Texas A&M. It’s tough to count the Bulldogs out of any of those games. At the same time, there are only a couple of “easy” games on the schedule.
While Mississippi State will be one of the most intriguing teams in the country this year, they’ll also be one of the toughest teams to project. It may be best to stay away from them on the betting front in 2018.