BATON ROUGE, La. — The Mississippi State Bulldogs kickoff their 10-game, conference-only football season Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CT inside Tiger Stadium.
The game, which will be televised nationally on CBS, will be capped at 25% of its listed capacity of 102,321, so a projected 25,580 fans will be in the stands.
Mississippi State begins its 121st season of football and its first under head coach Mike Leach. The sixth-ranked Tigers will be the highest-ranked opponent in a season opener for the Bulldogs since MSU opened the 2007 season against No. 2 LSU in Starkville, which resulted in a 45-0 win for the visiting Tigers.
In its history, State owns an 85-33-2 overall record in season openers. The Bulldogs have won nine of their last 12 season openers. Leach owns a 12-6 record in season openers including a 3-3 record on the road.
Leach leads all active FBS head coaches with the most average passing yards per game since 2001 (394.5).
Stanford graduate transfer K.J. Costello is the man in line to start at quarterback in Leach’s Air Raid offense. The 6-foot-5, 225-pounder is big with a quick release, which makes him an ideal fit to run Leach’s offense. He was limited last season due to injury and threw for just 1,038 yards with six touchdowns in five games, but he had a breakout year in 2018 when he threw for 3,540 yards and 29 touchdowns.
He’ll be throwing to junior wide receiver Malik Heath, senior JaVonta Payton, junior Austin WIlliams and junior Tyrell Shavers as starters. There isn’t an “OR” between Shavers and senior Osirus Mitchell, but there should be because Mitchell will also be a big-time contributor. Leach said Mitchell needs to show he can dominate in 1-on-1 situations in order for him to be relied upon. The 6-foot-5, 210-pounder led the team in receiving last year with 430 yards receiving and six touchdowns.
All-SEC running back Kylin Hill will be a key weapon in the run game as well as a receiver out of the backfield. Hill finished third in the league in rushing yards (1,350) and tied for fifth in scores on the ground (10) last season. He carried the rock a conference-leading 242 times last year, but he may not have such a heavy workload carrying the ball this season under Leach’s offense. Leach’s leading rusher last season, Max Borghi, carried the ball 127 times for 817 yards. But he saw plenty of action in the pass game, too, making 86 catches for 597 yards and five touchdowns.
First-year defensive coordinator Zach Arnett, who is switching the Bulldog defense to a 3-3-5 philosophy, will get to lean on senior linebacker Erroll Thompson, the only active SEC player with 200 career tackles, to be the anchor of the Bulldog defense. Sophomore Nathan Pickering should also be a key defender after emerging as an All-SEC Freshman honoree after finishing with 11 total tackles, 6.0 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks.
The defense will be trying to stop junior quarterback Myles Brennan. Brennan, from Long Beach, Mississippi, is making his first start with the Tigers. He’s thrown for 600 yards and two scores in 17 games.
His top target will be junior wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr., the team’s top returning receiver from last year’s historic offense. He caught 46 passes for 671 yards and 13 touchdowns last year, and those 13 scores rank third-highest in a single season in LSU history.
He’ll also have junior wide receiver Racey McMath to throw to as well as freshman receiver Kayshon Boutte and freshman tight end Arik Gilbert. Gilbert was the 2020 Gatorade National Player of the Year and should make a huge impact as a freshman.
LSU has a projected three-man running back committee with sophomore Chris Curry, sophomore Tyrion Davis-Price and sophomore John Emery Jr. all being listed on the same tier. Curry, a 5-foot-11, 216-pound running back makes himself a prime candidate for the lead role after starting the Peach Bowl against Oklahoma last year in replace of an injured Clyde Edwards-Helaire. He rushed for 90 yards on 16 carries in the game.
Defensively, LSU is led by sophomore All-American corner Derek Stingley Jr. and senior All-SEC safety JaCoby Stevens, who earned the coveted No. 7 LSU jersey. Stingley ranked No. 5 nationally in interceptions with six a year ago and also finished with 38 tackles. However, he will miss the game after becoming acutely ill Friday night. He was evaluated overnight in the hospital. His condition is reportedly not COVID-19 related. Stevens is LSU’s top returning tackler with 92 tackles.
The Tigers also bring in graduate transfer Jabril Cox who comes from FCS powerhouse North Dakota State. He had 258 tackles, 32.0 tackles for loss and 14.0 sacks in three seasons with the Bison. Returning starter Glen Logan will anchor the four-man front on LSU’s defensive line.
Watch it all go down on CBS, beginning at 2:30 p.m. CT. Brad Nessler (play-by-play), Gary Danielson (analyst) and sideline reporter Jamie Erdahl will be on the call.