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Mississippi State vs. Southern Miss Game Preview

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Get ready for Mississippi State's football season opener with our game preview as the Bulldogs travel to Hattiesburg for a late night battle with Southern Miss.

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Where

M.M. Roberts stadium

When

9:00 p.m.

TV

fox sports 1

Twenty five to four. That's the difference in wins for the Mississippi State and Southern Miss football programs the last three years.

As the long anticipated 2015 college football season gets underway Saturday, the Golden Eagles face a monstrous uphill climb if they want to close that gap on their instate rival three hours to the north. And not just from a talent standpoint, but from a confidence that has to be lacking after last season's 49-0 blowout in Starkville.

But this is a new season and anybody can win on any given Saturday, especially when you have a home field advantage. Ok, there may be as many maroon shirts in the stands as gold, but you get the point. A new season brings a new buzz and a hope to every team in the country that this will be their year.

For Southern Miss, a team waiting to showcase what is essentially a brand new roster -- full of transfers from some top Division 1 programs -- why not be excited? And for Mississippi State, a team fresh off its best season in school history with one of the best QB's in the country back for his senior season, why not be excited?

It's SEC vs. C-USA. It's Mississippi school vs. Mississippi school. Most importantly, it's COLLEGE FOOTBALL. Fire up the grill, turn on the TV, sit back and relax. And oh yeah, try not to fall asleep because you got a long wait ahead for this one.

Where do they rank?

MSU offense (2014 stats)                Southern Miss defense (2014 stats)

Points per game- 36.9 (16th)           Points per game- 35.4 (111th)

Total YPG- 513.8 (8th)                      Total YPG- 451.4 (106th)

Passing YPG- 280.7 (23rd)               Passing YPG- 235.1 (84th)

Rushing YPG- 233 (23rd)                 Rushing YPG- 216.3 (112th)

Southern Miss offense                      MSU defense

Points per game- 19 (117th)                       Points per game- 21.7 (23rd)

Total YPG- 365 (100th)                    Total YPG- 424.4 (86th)

Passing YPG- 269.3 (34th)               Passing YPG- 272.8 (117th)

Rushing YPG- 95.75 (124th)                        Rushing YPG- 151.5 (44th)

Headlines to watch

New and improved defenses

There's not a lot of film either of these teams can watch to prepare for the other's defense on Saturday. Each will have a far different look than this time last season when the teams met in Starkville. For MSU, that new look comes with the hire of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz -- who brings a more attacking style than his predecessor. He'll give a few looks that Southern didn't see in last year's opener. But Southern Miss coach Todd Monken might know just what to expect. After all, it will mark the fourth time in five seasons he's faced a Manny Diaz coached defense.

The Golden Eagles enter the season with a more or less brand new roster -- a roster that features a number of junior college and Division 1 transfers. Their defensive front seven benefitted the most from the influx of new players. Linebacker Anthony Swain (Auburn), defensive lineman Quincy Russell (Texas/Oklahoma), defensive lineman Andrew Bolton (Kansas), and JUCO lineman Ricky Parks who initially inked with Auburn are among the transfers expected to make an impact. Both Russell and Bolton weigh over 300 pounds.

Two quarterback system

Southern is expected to play two QB's against MSU. The first of course will be returning starter Nick Mullens, who went on to have a solid 2014 season after struggling against the Dogs. He will likely get the first snap of the game. The other will be TCU transfer Tyler Matthews, who has a stronger arm than Mullens and likes to throw the deep ball. Don't be surprised to see a few shots down the field when he takes over behind center.

Running back competition

Ashton Shumpert has been named the MSU starting running back and will be the first to carry the ball in the game. But it remains to be seen how the carries will be split between the backs and how they'll be used situationally. We should get a better idea of that, and Dontavian Lee and Aeris Williams will see plenty of carries in the second half if the game gets out of hand. It's important for them to impress the coaching staff no matter the score so a pecking order can start to be established.

Bear Force One suspended?

Game one suspensions aren't a surprise. They happen all over the country as players pay the price for team violations and legal trouble over the offseason. But when it's one of your best offensive weapons, it's something to keep an eye on. MSU receiver De'Runnya Wilson was listed on the starting depth chart for the game, but don't be surprised if he sits out after his arrest back in March. With or without Wilson, expect MSU to air the ball out to try and jump out to a big lead. With their deepest group of receivers under Dan Mullen and possibly in school history, there are plenty of players to pick up the slack if Wilson doesn't play.

Late start time

Dan Mullen has been very outspoken about his displeasure of a 9 p.m. kick off. He's practiced his team into late hours of the night several times to prepare for this moment. But NCAA rules prohibit teams from practicing as late as Saturday's game will go, which will likely be past midnight. It benefits Southern if anybody because they are the home team and don't have to travel. With it being the first game of the season Mullen shouldn't have any trouble getting the boys hyped and energized enough to play four quarters, but it's worth keeping an eye on.

Game plan for victory

Mississippi State: Show up. Show up, don't overlook the opponent, and focus on playing a clean game and doing the little things right. Even though Southern has almost doubled their talent level, they still can't compete with MSU if they play to their strengths and limit mistakes. Air the ball out early to jump out to a big lead and take the crowd out of it. If they can do that, there's a good chance Southern throws in the towel before the fourth quarter.

At the same time, don't reveal too much. You should be able to win this game running your basic offense and saving the good stuff for the SEC teams. Don't give LSU much of anything to see on film. Let Dak throw the ball in the first half to pad some stats and shake the rust off before next week, but take him out as soon as the game is in hand.

Southern Miss: Use your strength to attack MSU's weakness. You're facing a secondary that will feature several new faces at safety, so don't be afraid to take some shots down field and put those young players to the test. You're the underdog and a big one, so it's no time to hold back. Throw in a few trick plays and maybe an onside kick after a score. Do everything you can to catch MSU off guard and keep the fans into the game.

Prediction: Southern Miss makes the game a lot more competitive than last season and finds some success early in the passing game. But MSU's defense adjusts in the second half and Dak Prescott and the offense are too much to handle in the end.

Mississippi State- 49 Southern Miss- 17