Coming off losing season, Mississippi State lands in preseason Top 25 list
Many expect the cowbells of Starkville to be ringing a lot louder in 2017. Led by one of the SEC’s best head coaches in Dan Mullen and following the late-season emergence of quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State is gaining plenty of momentum as a team on the rise this offseason.
Despite the hype, it still was a bit of a surprise to see Mississippi State land in Stewart Mandel’s post-spring Top 25 rankings. In his most recent FOX Sports column, Mandel put the Bulldogs at No. 25 on his list. Keep in mind Mississippi State’s only regular season wins last season were against South Carolina, UMass, Samford, Texas A&M, and Ole Miss. MSU’s losses included South Alabama, BYU, Kentucky and the team also suffered a 51-3 dismantling at the hands of Alabama. In post-season play, it took a blocked field goal in the game’s closing moment against Miami of Ohio to survive in the St. Petersburg Bowl. MSU won that game 17-16.
Here’s what Mandel had to say about Mississippi State in his Top 25 column:
Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs are a solid bet to improve sharply from 6-7 last season. QB Nick Fitzgerald quietly led the SEC in total yards last season, though he’ll need to rely less on his feet, more on his arm. Redshirt freshman CB Cameron Dantzler emerged in the spring, joining JUCO S Brian Cole in a potentially ball-hawking secondary. JUCO DT Deion Pope could be another big addition for new coordinator Todd Grantham.
Mandel isn’t the first member of the media to jump on the Mississippi State bandwagon; Cole Cubelic has predicted the Bulldogs to beat Alabama next season, but likely is the first to call Mullen’s squad a Top 25 preseason team.
Anyone jumping on the bandwagon must have a ton of faith in defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s ability to come in and turn around the defense in one offseason. Of course, helping that cause is the fact that the Bulldogs had nine defensive signees arrive as early enrollees this offseason — six of which came via junior college. MSU will need all the help it can get to make an overnight turnaround happen, as the defense ranked 13th in the SEC in scoring defense, 12th in total defense, and 14th in pass defense last season.
While Fitzgerald did put up impressive numbers last season, he can’t win games by himself. Also factoring into MSU’s woes will be a lack of high-end receivers and, at least based on recent results, a sub-par offensive line.
The arrow is clearly pointing up in Starkville but it may be a bit premature to rank the Bulldogs among the Top 25 teams in the nation, at least until they’ve proven to have answers to the above concerns after coming off a losing season.