Every Mississippi State fan knows this team has the potential to be very special, but what if I told you this team could very well be the one which takes the next step to fight for a national championship? There will be fans chastise me for even mentioning it this early, but hear out my five points first and understand I also have five questions myself before I go making too high of predictions.
5 Reasons this Mississippi State Team is a CFP caliber team
- “Games are won in the trenches”
Every big time football fan has heard the phrase “The game is won in the trenches”, because every true football fan with a knowledge of the game understands the phrase carries a lot of truth. Ever wonder why you do not see a ton of upsets in the game of football compared to other sports? It is because not every school can recruit the big boys capable of being physical at the line EVERY SINGLE down.
For a LONG time, Mississippi State was not capable of staying up to par with recruiting linemen against other SEC schools, but these are different times for Mississippi State football. MSU football has come a long way in recruiting over these past 10 years and the future looks to be even brighter in the hands of Joe Moorhead (already off to a top-10 class for next year BUT it is only May).
Getting back to the “trenches” point, Mississippi State is perhaps fielding one of, if not, the best offensive lines in its history and I think a lot of people overlook what those guys did last year along with what they are capable of doing this coming football season. The bulldogs only gave up 13 sacks all season, which was a part of a six-way tie for fifth best in the country (UCF, Navy, NC ST., Colorado St., and Missouri were the other 5).
Mississippi State’s offensive line’s power success rate (percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown) was 84.2%, which was SECOND in the nation only to Army, who runs a wing-t option offense designed to do that. In fact, you can look at nearly every category related to a team’s offensive line and you will find Mississippi State in the top-5 of nearly every single one. Elgton Jenkins (early 2nd-late 3rd) and Deion Calhoun (later rounds 6-7) are guys who are projected to go in next year’s NFL Draft after graduation. Daryl Williams, the junior left guard from Bessemer, Alabama, is projected on WalterCampFootball.com as a first round draft pick for the 2020 NFL Draft following what would be his senior year.
Finally, you have the two redshirt sophomores, Stewart Reese and Greg Eiland at the offensive tackle positions, who looked like they had been playing in the SEC their whole lives during their redshirt freshman campaigns. If you want to win football games, you’ve got to set the tone at the line, but wait there’s more.
Mississippi State also boasts one of the greatest defensive lines in its school history headlined by two NFL-projected first rounders in defensive end, Montez Sweat, and my personal favorite player- defensive tackle, Jeffery Simmons. I spent a lot of time looking at many different mock NFL drafts for next year and I did not find a single one which did not have these two guys going somewhere between the 10th and 32nd overall picks.
Montez Sweat is a guy who can potentially play three different positions on the field (defensive end, outside linebacker, and inside linebacker) and that is something NFL scouts are always interested to see in athletes trying to make the transition to the next level, because it allows for flexibility on a coaching staff to put the athlete where they need him most.
Simmons is just an animal in the middle who is drawing a double team nearly every play, because it is near impossible for individuals at the collegiate level to block him in one-on-one situations. There is a viral video of the junior defensive tackle taking his left arm and throwing an SEC offensive lineman out of his way.... like is that even fair?
These two get a lot of the exposure, but Sweat and Simmons are not the only studs on this defensive line unit. Gerri Green and Braxton Hoyett have emerged as the other two starters on this defensive line, who both have a ton of starting experience already. Green spent most of his time at linebacker, but if you have ever seen the guy in person, then you would know he’s fully capable of holding down the defensive end position allowing other key guys to fulfill linebacker duties. Hoyett started a lot for the bulldogs last year at the defensive tackle position and did a great job of taking pressure off of Simmons while he was on the field. Then you look at guys like Kobe Jones and Chauncey Rivers, who both made a ton of good plays in this year’s spring game and rightfully so when you think of the recruiting hype which came with each of those guys. Other names to look out for are Fletcher Adams, Lee Autry, Tre Brown, Aaron Odom, Cory Thomas, and Grant Harris. Nearly all of these guys were huge recruits Mississippi State was not previously used to landing in Starkville, but again these are different times.
So as anyone can see...if games are truly won in the trenches, then Mississippi State is as primed to do so as anyone when looking at both sides of the line for this football team. And if you question whether teams really “win games in the trenches”, then please look no further than teams who have played in the CFP like Alabama, Clemson, Ohio St., and Georgia, who continually have the big boys who set the tone at the line. Mississippi State has had many talented teams with good offensive and defensive lines, but I do not know if they have ever had one with as much depth as they do this coming season.
2. Senior Leadership and Stud Sophomores
Mississippi State brings back anywhere from 17-19 starters depending on how you look at it, but the good thing for Mississippi State is they did not lose anyone who could really hurt this team. EXPERIENCE is always a key concept in EVERY sport, a Fab Five team only comes around every once in a blue moon. Teams who rise to the occasion to compete for championships are normally teams stocked with upperclassmen leadership built from their experiences over their playing career in key wins and key losses. Specifically, I am looking at it from a backfield perspective which features a redshirt senior quarterback, Nick Fitzgerald, and a senior running back, Aeris Williams. These guys have been a part of many, many snaps for Mississippi State football and they have witnessed nearly every defensive scheme which could be thrown their way, as well as building confidence in each other as a tandem.
Aeris Williams was one of only five SEC 1,000 yard rushers last season and Nick Fitzgerald was only 16 yards short of a 1,000 yard season himself (thanks Breeland Speaks, enjoy learning the ropes from Mississippi State, Chris Jones, aka the guy who was better than Robert Nkemdiche). Back to Fitz and Williams, these are guys who have really embraced what has been done in this program and are ready to take it to new heights. Fitz is 40 total touchdowns from breaking Dak’s total career touchdown record of 111 and 10 rushing touchdowns from breaking Boobie D’s career rushing touchdowns record of 42, which are both very doable for the dual-threat quarterback from Richmond Hill, Georgia. Not bad for a guy who was only given two scholarship offers. Aeris, a product of West Point, MS from right up the road has rushed for just over 2,000 yards in his career and is primed for a second straight 1,000 yard season depending on how carries are distributed this year.
Either way, you have to feel comfortable knowing these guys are leading this offense down the field on drives, BUT it is always nice to know you have quality back-ups as well in the two stud sophomores, Keytaon Thompson and Kylin Hill. Thompson and Hill have shown they are ready to go when called upon and are the future of Mississippi State football. All four of these guys will be given shots at playing in the NFL, but before plays on Sunday’s, they have many more great plays to make in maroon and white.
3. Schedule is Favorable
Obviously, playing in the SEC is never an easy task, but I feel our schedule sets up more favorably than in previous years. We begin the season with four very winnable ball games in Stephen F. Austin, Kansas St., UL-Lafayette, and Kentucky, which will all be games I personally feel will give Mississippi State the time to think things out before home games versus a tough Florida team and a top-10 Auburn opponent. Having both of those games at home really gives the bulldogs an opportunity to begin their season 6-0, but understand I realize the Auburn game is going to take a very well-executed game plan to win. The dogs also have games at home versus Arkansas, Louisiana Tech, and Texas A&M, but yes they do have to travel to the Tide and also TSUN, who will both have quality teams. Texas A&M and Arkansas have not had the best luck with Mississippi State in these recent years and they are both undergoing coaching changes of their own. LSU lost a lot of its team’s offensive firepower in running back, Derrius Guice’s departure. Ole Miss has yet to prove it has much of a defense and Auburn lost a lot of talent on both sides to the NFL Draft.
However, the bottomline, 11-1 or 12-0, is always a lot to ask for of a team, but especially when you have a first year coaching staff. However, with the athletes this team has and the way there schedule sets up especially with the first four games allowing the bulldogs to get adjusted sets up very well for the bulldogs. Just like any elite team, the bulldogs just need to take it one game at a time.
4. Elite Coaching Staff with new Invigoration
My next point is the team is being coached by a new coaching staff with tons and tons of NFL coaching experience, especially thinking of Luke Getsy, who will be calling the plays on offense. Bringing in a new staff to a program is never easy, but having guys who have coached at the most elite level helps out a lot. Plus it is the idea when someone participates in something new, they always bring this sense of energy because it provides a challenge and new change in scenery (which is one of the reasons why I feel Mullen left along with hitting his ceiling here), but that’s where I feel Moorhead comes in. Moorhead is stepping into his first Power-5 head coaching job and he has the opportunity to make a name for himself right away by showing he can be even more successful as a head coach than an offensive coordinator. Moorhead realizes he is stepping into a program that can compete for championships hence his phrase of being a team with a “championship standard”.
5. WE ACTUALLY HAVE A KICKER
A lot of people will ask how in the world this is one of my points, but if the bulldogs are the team we know they are capable of being, then a kicker will be VERY crucial to this team’s success. Field goals will be the difference in key games versus teams like Florida, Auburn, Alabama, and Ole Miss. I cannot tell you how many football games in Mississippi State’s history I have sat back and wondered if we could have won if our kicker had simply done his job. Teams who have went on to compete for championships did not make their runs strictly on offense and defense, but they did it with the third aspect of the game -special teams- as well. Jace Christmann is as accurate of a kicker as we have probably seen in the last ten years and it will be interesting to see if he can build off such a strong year last season.