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Mississippi State football opponent preview: The Rest of the Pack

The Bulldogs have an opportunity to finish the season strong

Syndication: Tuscaloosa News Gary Cosby Jr. via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Mississippi State’s football schedule features a backload of teams that will be jockeying for position amongst Southeastern Conference mediocrity. How the Bulldogs finish their season will determine if they can stand above the non-contenders.

At Vanderbilt - Oct. 23

Last season, a winless Vanderbilt team came closest to victory against Mike Leach’s struggling Bulldogs. This year, both squads have the potential to be vastly improved, and could provide a truly entertaining offensive matchup. Vanderbilt cut ties with previous head coach Derek Mason following last year’s winless campaign and opted to hire Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator Clark Lea as its next head coach.

The Commodores boast a strong wide receiver core that could be among the best in the league, returning all three starters from last season in Cam Johnson, Amir Abdur-Rahman and Chris Pierce Jr. The ability of sophomore quarterback Ken Seals to build off his time as a starter last season will be a huge part of what kind of success Vanderbilt is capable of at the beginning of Lea’s tenure. Mississippi State should win this matchup, but don’t expect Vandy to be a winless pushover.

Vs. Kentucky - Oct. 30

It’s rare to see a three-year SEC starting quarterback with a winning record transfer to a Group of Five program, but that’s exactly what happened with Terry Wilson leaving Kentucky for New Mexico.

Head coach Mark Stoops announced on Aug. 15 that incoming Penn State transfer Will Levis will handle starting quarterback duties for a team that has many holes to fill on both sides of the ball. It could be an uphill battle for the Wildcats this season if they want to keep up their recent string of surpassing expectations. This is nearly a must win game for Mississippi State in Starkville.

At Arkansas - Nov. 6

Arkansas surprised everyone last year in Year 1 under head coach Sam Pittman, putting together three wins in conference play (yes, it should’ve been four). Despite losing long-time SEC quarterback Felipe Franks, the Razorbacks are positioned to be respectable once again.

KJ Jefferson will start at QB, and he has been an exciting name to me for a couple of seasons now. I’m not sure why, but I feel good about that kid. The Razorbacks also return a fantastic linebacker duo in Grant Morgan, who led the country with 12.3 tackles per game last year, and Bumper Pool. The Razorbacks will prove a tough matchup for most of the conference this season.

At Auburn - Nov. 13

I’m high on new Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin as a football guy, despite the COVID-19 vaccine hoopla he roped himself into. Whether or not he can succeed early in Auburn is a huge unknown, however, and much of it rides on the success of veteran SEC starter Bo Nix.

I haven’t been a fan of Nix from the start, but he does boast more experience than most in the conference this season. Plenty of talent returns on defense and Tank Bigsby back at running back could get exciting in a hurry. Truthfully, the Tigers could be a lot of things this season, continuing the narrative of the Malzahn era.

Vs. Ole Miss Nov. 25

Year 2 of Lane Kiffin’s efforts to build an anti-Nick Saban death machine are well under way in Oxford, Mississippi, as the Rebels are poised to have one of the most formidable offensive units in the country behind returning starting quarterback Matt Corral and running back Jerrion Ealy.

The Rebels don’t figure to have their defensive woes turned around anytime soon, however, and Kiffin’s antics are likely to get the team in trouble once again, just as in last year’s Egg Bowl, which saw what should’ve been a comfortable Ole Miss victory come down to a Hail Mary. Based on these parameters, the Egg Bowl is likely to be just as wacky as ever.