Mississippi State football: What success would look like against Tennessee State
The College Football Playoff committee slipped the Mississippi State Bulldogs into their most recent rankings at No. 25 this week, ahead of Saturday’s matchup against the Tennessee State Tigers.
The Bulldogs, at 6-4, are the only 4-loss team in the CFP’s Top 25. In SEC play, Mississippi State is 4-3, tied with Texas A&M for 3rd place in the SEC West behind Ole Miss and Alabama.
It’s entirely possible that Mississippi State will end up in 2nd place when the dust settles, especially with a head-to-head victory over the Aggies and, of course, a possible head-to-head win over Ole Miss.
Ahead of the Egg Bowl, both Mississippi teams play opponents they should beat easily. The Rebels host their SEC East rival Vanderbilt, while the Bulldogs host Tennessee State. Ole Miss is favored by more than 5 touchdowns against Vandy, while the Bulldogs are such heavy favorites against such an unknown team that there are no major sportsbooks taking action on the game.
Tennessee State (5-5) is an FCS team that plays in the Ohio Valley Conference. It is coached by former NFL superstar Eddie George, and it plays its home games at Nissan Stadium, the home of the Tennessee Titans.
There are rumors and reports that Akron could be interested in George for its head coaching position after it fired Tom Arth earlier this month.
George, obviously, said he hadn’t heard those rumors and is focused on the team he has and on building the program. But we all know how this works.
George’s Tigers are coming off a 36-7 loss on Senior Day against Austin Peay in which their starting quarterback, Geremy Hickbottom, left with an injury after just a handful of snaps. As I write this, it’s unclear if Hickbottom will play against Mississippi State. He is a dynamic player who could be fun to watch for State fans.
In a game like this, the Bulldogs will want to run their vanilla schemes, execute to their ability and get the backups and rotational players as much time as possible.
The worst-case scenario, other than an enormous loss, would be needing to lean on starters like quarterback Will Rogers and cornerback Martin Emerson for too long in order to secure a victory.
FCS schools do upset Power 5 schools all the time. Indeed, just this year, Montana beat Washington in Seattle. We all remember Appalachian State beating Michigan, and the Mississippians among us remember Jacksonville State beating Ole Miss in Oxford. It happens.
For MSU, the name of the game this week is health and execution. Now that bowl eligibility has been sewn up, the focus can shift to beating Ole Miss (after Tennessee State).
Last week, I picked Auburn to beat MSU in part because kickoff was so early. In my defense, after the annual clock change, it got darker earlier and felt like about 5 p.m. when the comeback really kicked in. I was wrong, and I was surprised by the Bulldogs’ ability to stop the bleeding and get the wheels rolling in a huge 43-34 comeback win.
In this game, it isn’t difficult to imaging a sleepy MSU team starting slowly after the 11 a.m. kickoff.
I’ll take Mississippi State, clearly. However, I am very much interested to see which Bulldogs team shows up. For head coach Mike Leach, the message ought to be about proving that it doesn’t take a single play against a single opponent lightly.
That will be important, because after this game, the biggest Egg Bowl in years is coming at us like a missile.