With all the talk about Mississippi State putting together a disappointing season by losing five of their last six games, very few fans seem to want to ask a much different question. Did the Mississippi State Bulldogs match their expectation level, or perhaps even overachieve in 2012 when looking at the talent on the roster compared to their opponents? The answer may be yes.
Using cbssports.com, the Bulldogs did not have many players listed in the top 100 NFL draft prospects. Only Johnthan Banks (32nd overall, 3rd best corner back) and Gabe Jackson (88th overall, 4th best offensive guard) made the lists. Several opponents of the Bulldogs had players on the list as well. Alabama had seven players on the list that includes seniors and draft eligible underclassmen. Texas A&M had five players. The Tigers from LSU had four players. The Volunteers sent five players to the list. Arkansas had two players in the top 100, and Kentucky and Auburn both had one player in the list.
By using the top-100 as a guide, the Bulldogs finished 1-3 against more talented teams, 1-0 against equally talented teams, and 6-2 against less talented teams.
While that list gives you an idea about playmakers, perhaps the more telling list looks at all the players that have been given some NFL consideration. Mississippi State had nine players make this list. Every foe of the Bulldogs had at least one player make the list: Alabama (14), LSU (14), Arkansas (13), Texas A&M (12), Tennessee (10), Auburn (6), Kentucky (5), Northwestern (4), Troy (4), South Alabama (2), Ole Miss (1), Middle Tennessee State (1).
With a bit of a look at the list, the Bulldogs went 2-3 against teams with more eligible, NFL-potential talent than Mississippi State, picking up wins against Arkansas and Tennessee and losses to Alabama, LSU, and Texas A&M. The Bulldogs went 6-2 against teams that had less such talent than the Bulldogs, with the only losses coming to Ole Miss and Northwestern.
Looking at these numbers points to a few different things:
In the SEC, the Bulldogs have still not developed the depth of talent to compete with the top of the conference. Mississippi State ranked ninth on this list of talent, behind Georgia (15), Alabama, LSU, and Florida (14), Arkansas, Texas A&M, and Tennessee and South Carolina (10). The Bulldogs finished ahead of Missouri (8), Auburn and Vanderbilt (6), Kentucky and Ole Miss.
For the Bulldogs, their best wins may have been against Tennessee and Arkansas, the two teams with more talent than Mississippi State that the Bulldogs defeated. Given that both schools had quarterback-wide receiver combinations in the top-100 of the rankings, Mississippi State deserves credit for slowing those offenses enough and for putting enough points on the board to outscore them.
The two losses that jump off the page are the losses to Northwestern and Ole Miss. Looking at the draft-eligible talent, Mississippi State should have defeated these two squads, but much of the talent these squads have is not yet draft eligible. Additionally, the two games may have been the most likely to lose of the teams less talented than Mississippi State. The rivalry that is the Battle for the Golden Egg can have very unpredictable outcomes, and losses to weaker foes occur quite often. While the way Mississippi State lost may well have been hard to explain, the fact they lost should not have come as a surprise.
The Wildcats, though they have little draft worth talent at this time, managed to get the most out of the talent on their team. This squad, which lost three games, had the opportunity to make a run at the Rose Bowl or greater. Considering that fact, and the fact that bowl games are often unpredictable and poor barometers of a team's ability, the loss to Northwestern should not do much to deflate Bulldog fans.
Mississippi State's out-of-conference foes featured a dearth of a talent, nine players among the four teams. Perhaps the Bulldogs will be better served for SEC play be taking on a more talented out-of-conference foe. Even if that game results in a loss, if it helps the Bulldogs snag an extra conference victory, it would be worth it to Mississippi State.
If talent was the only thing that mattered, the Bulldogs would have finished with wins against Ole Miss and Northwestern while losing to Tennessee and Arkansas. While this would no doubt have done more to energize the Bulldog fan base, the team would have finished with the same record.
Is this a definitive answer on the Mississippi State season? Far from it, but this does offer a different view on the 2012 campaign.
For those wondering about the nine Mississippi State players listed, here they are in order of ranking:
Johnthan Banks: 32nd overall, 3rd corner back, 1st-2nd round
Gabe Jackson: 88th overall, 4th offensive guard, 2nd-3rd round
Darius Slay: 147th overall, 15th corner back, 4th-5th round
Josh Boyd: 177th overall, 16th defensive tackle, 5th-6th round
Cameron Lawrence: 221st overall, 23rd outside linebacker, 6th-7th round
Corey Broomfield: 281st overall, 34th outside linebacker, 7th round-Free Agent
Chad Bumphis: 387th overall, 45th wide receiver
Tobias Smith: 534th overall, 31st offensive guard
Marcus Green: 656th overall, 17th fullback