Southeastern Conference Media Days are taking place this very week in Hoover, Alabama, with Mississippi head coach Mike Leach set to make a much-anticipated appearance at an event that has grown into spectacle all its own.
Senior wide receiver Austin Williams and junior linebacker Aaron Brule will be joining Leach, each with a good opportunity to be significant contributors to the team this season.
So, to celebrate the circus that is SEC Media Days, now is a perfectly good time to begin taking a glance at Mississippi State’s 2021 schedule and making some early (let’s really focus on the word “early” here) predictions for how the Bulldogs might fare in their second season under Leach. We shall tackle the nonconference slate today and preview each SEC matchup individually in the coming weeks.
Fair warning: I am a cautious optimist with my sports allegiances, always flirting with outright pessimism, so there will not be an overabundance of sugar coating today.
Louisiana Tech - Sept. 4 - Starkville, Mississippi
Already someone reading this is thinking something along the lines of, “Ah, State sure does know a thing or two about opening the season with a loss to a Group of Five team.” Well, yes, they do. In 2016 against South Alabama, for those that are unaware. But there is neither overlap or connection to said 2016 team, so let’s just please not, OK, thank you.
This is a game that Mississippi State should and severely needs to win. Louisiana Tech is not a poor program by any stretch, but they are not a favorite in the Conference USA this season, and State should be heavily favored.
Louisiana Tech is home to the 2020 C-USA Newcomer of the Year in quarterback Luke Anthony, who will be fighting to return from an unfortunate injury in December of last season. He’ll be joined by a defensive unit that struggled last season but returns a large portion of its starters.
It’s imperative that State manages a win in this first game because the early nonconference slate gets much tougher.
Prediction: Finding rhythm in the early games of a new season can be difficult for any team and adjusting to a scheme like the Air Raid as early as Year 2 only compounds the issue. Mississippi State will take care of business in its first game, but I imagine it will be quite sloppy, and hey, you can’t be too confident because State sure does know a thing or two about opening the season with a loss to a Group of Five team.
NC State - Sept. 11 - Starkville, Mississippi
Starkville will enjoy welcoming the Wolfpack team and fans after the rally cry made for NC State following the nonsense that occurred in this past College World Series, but there is a game to be played on the field, in another sport, and it is entirely up for grabs.
NC State quarterback Devin Leary also saw serious injury last season, but the team remained formidable, putting together an 8-4 season with a two-point loss to Kentucky in the Gator bowl.
Head coach Dave Doeren has done well on the recruiting trail recently and this program is trending up. They have a legitimate chance to compete towards the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference and are building upon previous success.
Prediction: Mississippi State will still be finding its flow early on, and while the potential to be competitive is on the table, NC State should win this game, and I expect it could be by multiple scores, assuming Leary is fully recuperated from his injury.
Memphis - Sept. 18 - Memphis, Tennessee
The Memphis Tigers have been the most consistent and successful FBS football program in the state of Tennessee for quite a while now, and the SEC tenants are not exactly close behind.
However, Memphis faces a bit of a retooling scenario this season. The team has lost a lot of bodies over the past year for various reasons, including quarterback Brady White, who took his chances in the NFL draft.
The Tigers do return a 1,000-yard receiver from last year’s 8-3 team in Calvin Austin III and a 500-yard rusher in running back Rodrigues Clark.
Prediction: The early challenge from NC State will be good for the Bulldogs and bodes well for their chances in this game. It will also be the first game on the road, which is worth considering. I expect this game to stay tight from start to finish, but I believe State can edge out a win.
Tennessee State - Nov. 20 - Starkville, Mississippi
Tennessee State struggled in the FCS-level Ohio Valley Conference last season and shouldn’t pose any level of threat to the Bulldogs.
Prediction: State should easily win this game, and given it’s placement late in what will likely be a tough second year for the Bulldogs, Leach’s group will likely be hungry for a convincing win. I expect that to occur in a fairly straightforward fashion.