Spring football has been shutdown due to COVID-19, which isn’t the ideal way for head coach Mike Leach to start his coaching career at Mississippi State. No spring practices or game means we are left with many unanswered questions about this year’s Bulldog football team, but that doesn’t stop me from naming 10 key players for the 2020 football season.
Here are the top 10 Mississippi State players to keep an eye on for the 2020 football season:
1. Kylin Hill, RB
Arguably the best running back in the Southeastern Conference, Kylin Hill rushed for 1,350 yards and 10 touchdowns on 242 carries. He ranked third in the league in yards rushing. The Columbus, Mississippi native previously said he would be entering the NFL Draft, but he has since decided to return for his senior season, and Bulldog fans couldn’t be happier. Hill will be the leader of the team and further make his case as one of the greatest running backs in program history.
2. K.J. Costello, QB
A new face on the Bulldogs, K.J. Costello comes to Mississippi State as a graduate of Stanford. This is the second straight year that MSU is bringing in a grad transfer quarterback having brought in Tommy Stevens last year, but Costello comes to Starkville with a lot more starting experience. Costello totaled 1,028 passing yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions last year. He was limited due to injuries, however. The Newport Beach, California native threw for 6,151 yards and 49 touchdowns in 29 total appearances for the Cardinal.
3. Erroll Thompson, LB
Erroll Thompson also previously announced he would be entering the draft, but he will also return for his senior season. He is a captain of the defense and will undoubtedly be the key piece to this year’s defense. The Florence, Alabama native finished with a team-high 84 tackles in 2019 and will enter his senior season with back-to-back seasons of 80-plus tackles.
4. Marcus Murphy, S
There will be a lot of shuffling around in the defensive secondary. Mississippi State has to replace cornerbacks Cameron Dantzler and Maurice Smitherman along with safeties Brian Cole II and Jaquarius Landrews. That puts Marcus Murphy, a West Point, Mississippi native, in prime position to play a key role in the secondary. He played in just five games last year, but made 26 tackles, including 10 in the Music City Bowl. Coming out of high school, Murphy was the fourth overall recruit in Mississippi.
5. Osirus Mitchell, WR
Osirus Mitchell led the team in 2019 with 430 yards receiving and was second with 29 catches. Those numbers have the potential to skyrocket in Leach’s pass-happy Air Raid offense. The The 6-foot-5 and 210-pounder should be the top option for Costello.
6. Marquiss Spencer, DE
Marquiss Spencer started every game last season and had 37 total tackles. He also recorded 6.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks. The Greenwood, Mississippi native will need to make up for the lost production of Chauncey Rivers, who recorded five sacks in 2019.
7. JaVonta Payton, WR
JaVonta Payton finished his first Bulldog season with nine catches for 147 yards, but just like Mitchell, he should benefit from Leach’s coaching style. Before MSU, the Nashville, Tennessee native ranked as the top wide receiver in junior college, per ESPN. Payton possess the needed speed to stretch a defensive vertically, so look for him to be much more productive this year.
8. Aaron Brule, LB
The Bulldogs lose linebacker Willie Gay Jr., who decided to go pro early and linebacker Leo Lewis to graduation. Brule, a former four-star linebacker prospect, will look to fill some of the voids. The Metarie, Louisiana native recorded 11 tackles in 2019, but will be asked to do a lot more this season.
9. Jordan Davis, DE
Mississippi State graduated defensive ends Chauncey Rivers and Fletcher Adams. MSU does return veteran Marquiss Spencer, who is mentioned above at No. 6, and Kobe Jones on the edge, but newcomer Jordan Davis will add immediate depth. Davis joins the Bulldogs as the No. 1 JUCO defensive end and the No. 4 overall prospect in the 2020 ESPN Junior College 50. The Memphis, Tennessee native played in 17 games over the past two seasons at Copiah-Lincoln Community College and tallied 81 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.
10. Tyler Williams, CB
With the departures of Dantzler and Smitherman, Tyler Williams will be asked to step into a starting cornerback position. Williams recorded 23 tackles a year ago. He also forced and recovered a fumble on his stat line.
The Bulldogs are scheduled to begin the season on Sept. 5, 2020, when they host New Mexico at Davis Wade Stadium.