Is Mississippi State destined to be No. 1 again?
Mississippi State scored 49 points in its 2014 season-opening shutout of Southern Mississippi. Three years and three days to that day, the Bulldogs did the same in a shutout of Charleston Southern to start this season.
Coincidence? Maybe. Or maybe not. The two seasons are starting to become eerily similar, eerily in a good way for fans in Starkville.
In the second game of 2014, UAB led Mississippi State 17-13 early in the second quarter. In the second week of this season, Louisiana Tech led the Bulldogs 9-0 midway through the first quarter. Both times, MSU came back to win.
The bigger, badder SEC team was supposed to win each game, and in 2014, Mississippi State was supposed to open the season 3-0 and did so by beating South Alabama.
Neither time were the Bulldogs supposed to beat LSU to keep the early perfection going. Dak Prescott’s 56-yard touchdown run the in the third quarter to give his team a 24-10 lead at No. 8 LSU will forever live in school history after it paved the way to a 34-29 win, the first in Baton Rouge since 1991, and a 4-0 start to 2014.
Saturday in Starkville, LSU came in ranked No. 12 and was undeniably dominated by the Bulldogs in a 37-7 rout. The third quarter of this one also had a game-opening play, a 45-yard touchdown pass from Nick Fitzgerald to Keith Mixon for a 27-7 lead en route to a 3-0 start.
Both days against the Tigers put the Bulldogs in the AP Poll, from unranked to No. 14 in 2014, from unranked to No. 17 this week.
Both teams had quarterbacks who had already started making names for themselves and added a few eyes after beating LSU. The knock on Fitzgerald has been his accuracy. He threw for 180 yards and two touchdowns Saturday on 15 of 23 passing without an interception. In the game three seasons ago, Prescott was 15 of 24 for 268 and two touchdowns, no picks.
The Bulldogs started the 2014 season 9-0 and rose to No. 1 in the country for the first time in school history. It came after the media picked them to finish fifth in the SEC West. It’s only fair to point out the rise to the top ironically was helped by hated rival Ole Miss’s defeat of Alabama in the sixth week of the season. That same group of media picked the Bulldogs to finish sixth in the West this season. It’s early, but first has better odds than sixth thus far.
The first loss in 2014 came 25-20 at Alabama. Identically, the Bulldogs play the Crimson Tide in the 10th game this season, four days to the day of the 2014 meeting. For Mississippi State to be 9-0, it will take road wins at SEC East-favored Georgia, Auburn and Texas A&M, plus home wins against BYU, Kentucky and UMass. Wins the next two weeks against Georgia and Auburn, and that scenario starts looking really good. In 2014, the Bulldogs beat A&M, Auburn and Kentucky in the same stretch.
There is still a long way to go for the Bulldogs even to come close to matching 2014, arguably the greatest season in school history, without a doubt in modern history, despite losing its final two games to finish 10-3. Following the loss in Tuscaloosa in 2014, the Bulldogs beat Vanderbilt, lost to Ole Miss and lost to Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl, its first trip there since 1941.
This season is shaping up in similar fashion in more ways than one. Three years ago, Prescott popped onto the Heisman scene, the tackling-breaking run at LSU one of those key Heisman moments on national television propelling him into the conversation. Fitzgerald thus far is 43 of 70 passing for 543 yards, seven touchdowns and only one interception, a QBR of 156.7. He also has rushed for a team-second-high 240 yards and five of his team’s eight rushing touchdowns. He is No. 5 on Bleacher Report’s Way Too Early Heisman Rankings. Prescott finished eighth in voting in 2014.
Starkville was a mad house Saturday. The next big home test should be two months away when Alabama visits as the likely No. 1 team in the country. It was a top-five matchup three years ago. It’s still tough to find many outside Mississippi State who believe the Bulldogs will rattle off the next six in a row and have at least a top-10 matchup on Nov. 11.
That’s also what they said at SEC Media Days and again before Saturday’s beatdown of LSU.