Undoubtedly the biggest question marks surrounding the 2015 Mississippi State football team involve the big boys protecting Dak Prescott and the speedsters patrolling the back end of the defense.
The anchor of that offensive line -- Dillon Day, Ben Beckwith, and Blaine Clausell -- that propelled MSU to an SEC leading 513 yards per game are no longer around, which means three new faces have enormous shoes to fill.
It's not like the three guys replacing them have no experience at all, but they certainly don't have the years of leadership that those guys brought to the table. Day was thrust into a starting role as a true freshman and played ever since. Clausell had starting experience dating back to his redshirt freshman season as well. Beckwith, a former walk-on, didn't start until his junior year, but he graded out higher than any other offensive lineman last season.
At safety, the brain of the secondary is gone with the departure of Jay Hughes. He wasn't the most physical player in the world and he wasn't going to lay anybody out, but the kid was always in position to make plays. Then there's Justin Cox, with his off the field issues aside, was a pretty darn good football player. Maybe not the most consistent player, but he had the speed to match up with any receiver in college football.
With all of these losses, which position has more to prove? Let's take a look at the projected starters.
The coaching staff knows what they are getting with Justin Malone and Justin Senior, returning starters at left guard and right tackle, respectively. The question is whether or not the other three starters can step up and compliment them.
Jamaal Clayborn played in 11 games over the past two seasons, but that was at guard. He has since transitioned over to center, one of the hardest positions on the offensive line. He's taken snaps at center ever since Orange Bowl practices and received good reviews in the spring.
Devon Desper played at guard in 11 games in 2014, including two starts. One of those starts came against Texas A&M, when Dillon Day was suspended. Desper didn't do anything spectacular that game, but the offense didn't miss a beat, which is a good sign.
Then there's the two players that intrigue me the most: Rufus Warren and Martinas Rankin. They will likely battle it out for the left tackle spot, even though Rankin has taken a lot of snaps at right tackle. Warren is a converted tight end still learning the ropes, but it's a promising sign that he's been able to hold off Rankin, the nation's top rated JUCO offensive tackle.
Mullen and offensive line coach John Hevesy will have a close eye on those four guys when the pads come on. Not only is their development crucial to the offense's success, but so is their health. There isn't a lot of depth behind them.
The outlook for this group is a little different if we know that Kendrick Market is healthy, but we don't. He's still healing from a torn Achilles, and we don't even know if he'll be the same player when he does get back to 100 percent. His most likely replacement is Deontay Evans, who still has a lot to prove defending the pass but looked good defending the run last season (recorded 10 tackles in the Orange Bowl).
At strong safety coaches are high on Brandon Bryant, but the redshirt freshman has yet to play a snap in a game. We won't know what we're truly getting until the season kicks off. He's listed as a co-starter with Kivon Coman on the depth chart, a guy who has plenty of experience as a backup.
Perhaps the group's best player is a freshman, and that's worrisome. I'm obviously talking about Jamal Peters, one of the prized jewels of MSU's latest recruiting class. He has a high ceiling and probably a future in the NFL, but it's hard to trust any true freshman to cover the receivers they will face in this league.
When it comes down to it, I think this group of safeties definitely has more to prove than the offensive line. Several of those same players left a lot to be desired in pass coverage on a unit that ranked 117th in pass defense. The coaches know a lot more about what they have at offensive line, and most importantly, they won't be relying on freshmen.
With that being said, if we're talking about which is more critical to the team's success, it's the offensive line hands down. The Dogs are pretty much set at every other position on offense. If the line struggles, it can change the outcome of the entire season. The same can't be said for the safeties. After all, they did everything in the world to hurt the defense last season, but that didn't stop MSU from winning 10 regular season games for the first time in school history.