There’s a buzz about football in Starkville, Miss., unlike any offseason in recent memory, or even non-recent memory.

The Bulldogs enter the 2015 season on the heels of only its second 10-win season in more than 70 years, they return the SEC (and maybe the nation’s) best quarterback in Dak Prescott and they just brought in one of their best recruiting classes of the 2000s.

Unfortunately, MSU also bid farewell to more than half its starters from a year ago, causing a dramatic roster shakeup around Prescott that doesn’t exactly jive with the hyper-competitive SEC West. Nevertheless, the Bulldogs have confidence and the experience as the nation’s No. 1 team for more than a month straight last year, and that paired with Prescott’s other-worldly abilities could lead to a repeat of 2014’s success.

If that’s to happen, however, the bevy of new starters in the lineup will have to acclimate themselves to life in the SEC quickly to keep MSU afloat. With that in mind, here’s an educated guess of the team’s post-spring depth chart.


QB1: Dak Prescott
QB2: Damian Williams, Nick Fitzgerald

Prescott is a fifth-year senior who passed on an early entrance into the NFL to return to MSU for one more year of college ball. He led Mississippi State to its second 10-win season since World War II, and was honored as the SEC’s first-team all-conference quarterback as a result. He’ll be backed up by redshirt freshman Nick Fitzgerald, who had a tremendous spring and caught the eye of the coaching staff in the process, as well as Damian Williams, Prescott’s primary backup last year who may be better equipped to play in relief in the midst of a game.

RB1: Ashton Shumpert
RB2: Brandon Holloway, Dontavian Lee, Aeris Williams

Shumpert — a big, bruising runner — and Holloway — a much smaller, quicker, more elusive back —shared co-backup duties behind Josh Robinson last season, and would be the logical choices to handle most of the carries this fall. However, with the emergence of Lee and Williams this spring, the tailback competition remains wide open this far in advance of the regular season opener. One thing’s for certain: Dan Mullen’s MSU teams almost always run the ball effectively, and whoever is called upon should thrive in the Bulldogs’ offense this year.

WR1: De’Runnya Wilson
WR2: Fred Brown

WR1: Joe Morrow
WR2: Donald Gray

SLOT1: Fred Ross
SLOT2: Gabe Myles

TE1: Darrion Hutcherson
TE2: Gus Walley

Wilson was sidelined for much of the spring, but it’s expected he’ll be a full-go by the time the regular season kicks off in September. If that comes to fruition, he’ll remain one of the most explosive and athletically gifted wideouts in the SEC, and in a second year working with Prescott his numbers should continue to rise. The former basketball star is dominant on the perimeter and in the red zone, and he’ll remind us all of that this fall. With the exception of Gray, a four-star junior college transfer, the other receivers listed above all saw regular playing time last year, and their maintained connections with Prescott should enhance the entire passing game in the quarterback’s second and final year as the full-time starter. The new tight ends replacing the departed Malcolm Johnson will have their work cut out for them, but both drew rave reviews this spring, and together they should be able to handle most of the tight end duties.

LT1: Rufus Warren
LT2: Cole Carter

LG1: Justin Malone
LG2: Kent Flowers

C1: Jamaal Clayborn
C2: Jocquell Johnson

RG1: Devon Desper
RG2: Deion Calhoun

RT1: Justin Senior
RT2: Martinas Rankin

This is arguably the greatest area of concern on the MSU depth chart following spring ball. Only two players — Malone and Senior — are returning starters from last year, and Clayborn isn’t just new to the starting lineup but to the center position entirely. Because so many former backups were called up to start, there’s an even greater lack of experience behind them, meaning one injury could undo the entire line in an SEC loaded with powerful defensive lines. Rankin, another four-star juco transfer, could be a star in the making at offensive tackle, but the remainder of the backup linemen present one large question mark for the fall.


DE1: A.J. Jefferson
DE2: Torrey Dale

DT1: Chris Jones
DT2: Nick James

DT1: Nelson Adams
DT2: Cory Thomas

DE1: Ryan Brown
DE2: Will Coleman

Although he’s now gone to serve as the defensive coordinator at Florida, Geoff Collins’ Psycho Defense will continue to benefit MSU this fall in his absence. The defense bid farewell to more than half its starters from last year, but because the unit truly went 22-deep last year many of last year’s “backups” bring a wealth of SEC experience to the lineup. The one returning starter along the defensive line, Jones, is a former five-star prospect with NFL draft first-round upside, and if he can remain a dominant force up the middle the linemen around him will all benefit.

WILL LB1: Beniquez Brown
WILL LB2: J.T. Gray

MIKE LB1: Richie Brown
MIKE LB2: Gerri Green, Leo Lewis

SAM LB1: Zach Johnson
SAM LB2: Quadry Antoine

Beni Brown stepped up as one of the most productive linebackers in the SEC last year, quietly complementing NFL second-round pick Benardrick McKinney at the heart of the Bulldogs defense. He returns to anchor the defense, and he’ll be joined by Richie Brown (no relation), who picked off three passes last year in backing up McKinney. J.T. Gray, one of the team’s best freshmen a year ago, is back and more experienced, and four-star middle linebacker signee Leo Lewis could make an immediate impact in a reserve role when he arrives on campus this summer. The Bulldogs flipped Lewis from arch-rival Ole Miss, and the addition of the nation’s top inside linebacker prospect from the 2015 class could pay dividends right away in building depth like MSU enjoyed last year.

CB1: Taveze Calhoun
CB2: Tolando Cleveland, Jamoral Graham

CB1: Will Redmond
CB2: Cedric Jiles, Chris Rayford

SS1: Kivon Coman
SS2: Brandon Bryant

FS1: Deontay Evans
FS2: Kendrick Market

Calhoun, a senior, is a returning starter from last year, and Redmond excelled as the team’s third corner and will now start on the outside as a senior himself. Cleveland, Coman, Evans and Market all saw time at safety a year ago, and Graham was reportedly among the more impressive players this spring in his move from primarily a kick returner to cornerback. As players like Jiles, Rayford and Bryant continue to emerge, MSU has the top-end experience to carry the unit as it aims to rebuild depth. No defense in the SEC allowed more long completions last year than MSU, so this group of returning talents will have to hit the ground running this fall to avoid suffering a similar fate.

K: Westin Graves, Devon Bell, Logan Cooke
P: Devon Bell, Logan Cooke

Bell and Cooke are punters first who happen to also possess place kicking abilities, while Graves is primarily a place kicker, but considering none of the three has ever hit a field goal for MSU, there’s reason for major concern (Graves and Cooke were a combined 0-2 on field goals last year). Bell is an above-average punter in the SEC and presents no concern at that spot, but if MSU cannot find someone to kick field goals its offense, led by the SEC’s best quarterback, could be limited in terms of points per game compared to teams with adequate kicking games.