The annual summer tradition. Mississippi State Football knows it all too well... projected dead last in the SEC West. This summer might feel far more familiar than just some prediction. There is a dark-horse Heisman candidate at quarterback? A disappointing previous season? Oh and that Dan Mullen guy is coaching? Remember that? Sounds like the Summer of 2014. Ah, yes the same summer no one expected anything from the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Yes, the same Mississippi State Bulldogs that rose to #1 and stayed there the majority of the season that year. Those Bulldogs shocked the nation. And there is no reason this year has to be any different. Number one again? Maybe not. But there is reason to believe.
Success starts with offense, more specifically a quarterback, and State happens to have one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. Last year, he gave the defense absolute Fitz*. Putting up 2,434 yards passing and a whopping 1,375 yards rushing in the toughest division in football is no easy task, and Bulldogs fans have every reason to believe he will be back and better in Starkvegas in 2017. Fitzgerald has everything a quarterback needs to exceed... a deep backfield, a talented receiving core, an experienced offensive line, led by a projected first rounder, Martinas Rankin, and an incredible (most of the time) play-caller in Coach Mullen. Fitzgerald has had an entire offseason to improve through the air as well, much like that of Prescott a few years ago. Returning Donald Grey, Keith Mixon, and Aeris Williams gives Fitzgerald talent in all the right places. If Fitzgerald can add a stronger passing game and have an encore of last year’s rushing yardage, it is a top offense in the SEC. Eerily reminiscent to that 2014 team mentioned earlier. The thought of offense alone should give hope to Bulldog fans everywhere.
Last year was a dismal 6-7 season. But it should be noted that it could have easily been a 10-3 season. 4 losses of the 7 were a touchdown or less. This brings up the issue of the beloved MSU kicking game. Again, there is hope. Hope’s name just happens to be Tucker Day, who played in the U.S Army All-American game, and brings much needed talent to the Bulldogs special teams as a highly touted kicker/punter. Truly only time will tell with Day, but if his high school career is any hint of the future, his future looks very promising. The return of Logan Cooke is crucial for the Bulldogs, as he brings back experience and knowledge for Day, and returns his own talent to the punting game.
And of course the only thing more morbid than the kicking game last year was... defense. The Bulldogs fielded a youthful defense in 2016, similar to that of the 2013 team. Now, with a year more experience under their belt, a new defensive coordinator in Todd Grantham, and more talent, the defense is primed for a much better year. Simmons and Lewis will improve greatly and see way more playing time in the rotation and the front seven is arguably all-around more talented. Montez Sweat is going to be great coming off the edge and Gerri Green will cause headaches on the opposite side. The front seven has potential to dominate the rush game due its size and speed. On a side note, the 2014 Bulldogs finished 4th in rush defense in the SEC. The secondary is more solid with Peters and Bryant gaining experience and Tolando Cleveland will be back as well, which are all positive signs for the defense.
But why else should you believe in the Dawgs? Well for starters Dan Mullen is still the coach (PS: he coached that 2014 team) and is one of the best coaches in college football. He has won a few games (61)... but more than Dan Mullen, and dark-horse candidates, Granthams, and kickers... Bulldogs have a little luck on their side. For the superstitious, notice that the year before the 2014 season, State won the Egg Bowl to clinch a bowl berth AND the bowl game... so 10-3 here we come! But even further than that, Mississippi State Athletics has been pretty lucky in 2017 so far... why wouldn’t it keep going? Blocked kicks, game winners, and comebacks have been the theme so far. Brent Rooker and Morgan Williams rose to the occasion for their team... who is to say Fitz won’t add his name to the Campus Legends? Another State team rising from no where... say it ain’t so. If it happens, I’d say its safe to say we would party like its 2014.