After a disappointing 1st season for Mississippi State under Mike Leach, you would expect heads to be hanging in Starkville. The truth is quite the opposite, as the Bulldogs took some momentum into the offseason with 2 straight wins, including an Armed Forces Bowl victory over Tulsa.

Year 2 in the Leach era has always seen improvement at previous stops and, luckily on offense, the Bulldogs did not lose much experience. Three of the top 4 receivers return in Leach’s Air Raid along with the 2 top running backs, and just 2 spots on the offensive line have to be filled. It will be important that they use the experience to improve, as State struggled offensively, finishing 104th in the FBS by gaining just 340.2 yards per game and 109th in points per game at 21.4.

Needless to say, Leach will be looking for way more from his offense in 2021.

Here’s a projected starting lineup for the Bulldogs.


  • QB: Will Rogers
  • RB: Jo’Quavious Marks
  • WR1: Jaden Walley
  • WR2: Malik Heath
  • WR3: JaVonta Payton
  • WR4: Austin Williams
  • LT: Charles Cross
  • LG: LaQuinston Sharp
  • C: Cole Smith
  • RG: Scott Lashley
  • RT: Kwatrivous Johnson

The biggest question mark is what will happen with Heath following his role in the brawl at the conclusion of the bowl game. If he returns, the Bulldogs will have plenty of talent and depth at wide receiver. Marks will look to play the role pictured for Kylin Hill — as someone who can put up some yards on the ground while being a target out of the backfield — even more in 2021.

The offensive line got a boost with both Lashley, who missed all of 2020 due to injury, and Sharp deciding to return. It will be a position that State will need to bolster, as the Bulldogs ranked 120th in the FBS by allowing 34 sacks in 11 games.


  • DE: Jack Harris
  • NT: Jaden Crumedy
  • DT: Nathan Pickering
  • LB: Tyrus Wheat
  • LB: Nathaniel Watson
  • LB: Aaron Brule
  • LB: Shawn Preston Jr.
  • CB: Martin Emerson
  • CB: Esaias Furdge
  • FS: Fred Peters
  • SS: C.J. Morgan

Gone are Erroll Thompson, Marcus Murphy, Marquiss Spencer and Kobe Jones from a defense that allowed just 389.7 yards per game last season, good for 52nd in FBS, and 28.1 points per game (57th), but a slew of talent returns, including at safety. An injury against Alabama in 2019 kept Morgan out of all of the 2020 season, yet he has vowed to return, along with Peters, who missed almost all of this past season with a biceps injury.

Brule sort of lived in Thompson’s shadow this past season but will now be looked upon as the leader of a strong linebacker corps, while Pickering’s return gives the Bulldogs a stable force up front.

Final thought …

The experience that Rogers gained at quarterback along with a full offseason working with Leach will be huge for the Bulldogs offense going into 2021. A true freshman thrown into the fire, Rogers improved each and every week, while his supporting staff, including Marks and his receivers, started to gather some rhythm.

The Bulldogs offense will vastly improve in the 2nd year of Leach’s tenure, while the defense, which lost so many playmakers, might take a little step back but could also be one of the best units in the SEC. It is a team that is built to win a lot of games now.