Ten reasons Mississippi State will win 10 games in 2014
The Mississippi State Bulldogs enter the coming season with plenty of promise, but what will it take for the Bulldogs to follow through on their high expectations?
Here are 10 reasons Mississippi State will win 10 games in 2014:
1. Dak Prescott: The Bulldogs finally have one of the SEC’s elite quarterbacks running the show, and they’ll likely go as far as Dak takes them in 2014. If Prescott can meet expectations and put together an All-SEC-type season, the Bulldogs will be tough to stop. The way Prescott led MSU from behind against Ole Miss at the end of last season shows he embraces the big stage, which is something the Bulldogs have lacked in years past. However, if Prescott fails to build upon his progress last season, MSU’s chances at 10 wins could be gone in the blink of an eye.
2. Experience on defense: Mississippi State returns eight starters on defense, which could be an edge in games against Alabama and LSU, who are ushering in new quarterbacks this season. The Bulldogs are a cohesive, well-rounded unit on defense with very few holes to exploit. If the team can find a replacement for the departed Nickoe Whitley in the back-end of its defense, it could be one of the top units in the nation.
3. Easy non-West schedule: Mississippi State has one of the easiest non-conference schedules among SEC teams (Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama and UT Martin), and will once again benefit from maintaining Kentucky as a permanent SEC East foe (Kentucky hasn’t won an SEC game since 2011). The team’s lone test outside the West division will be a November 22 showdown with Vanderbilt, which also happens to be MSU’s Senior Night. The Bulldogs will likely be favored in all six non-West games, and will need to win all six to reach 10 wins for the year.
4. Strong running game: It’s no secret Dan Mullen likes to run the ball, and this year he’s got the tools to command one of the SEC’s top rushing offenses. Prescott is a true dual-threat quarterback with more running ability than any Mullen quarterback since Tim Tebow, and tailback Josh Robinson returns after averaging nearly six yards per carry a season ago. If MSU can run the ball efficiently and command time of possession, it will be able to stay close on the scoreboard with its usual nemeses in Alabama and LSU.
5. Jameon Lewis: The Mississippi State wide receiver was the best gadget player in the SEC last season. Lewis can line up anywhere on the field and beat defenses as a receiver, a runner or even as a passer. No one else in the SEC has an offensive weapon as versatile as Lewis, and if utilized properly he has the potential to be dangerous this season.
6. Chris Jones: The Bulldogs’ mammoth defensive lineman burst on the scene as a freshman in 2013 and should be even better as a full-time defensive tackle in 2014. Jones had just three sacks last season but saved them for the Bulldogs’ biggest games of the year: LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss. He can rush the passer and clog inside running lanes as the anchor of MSU’s defensive line, and will be the focus of many SEC offensive coordinators’ attention in the coming year.
7. Momentum from last season: The Bulldogs ended last season on a high-note with a come-from-behind win over arch-rival Ole Miss followed by a convincing 44-7 victory over Rice in the Liberty Bowl. Mississippi State entered the offseason with confidence, and that confidence should carry over into the start of the 2014 season, which opens with three winnable games. A team with momentum on its side is dangerous in any circumstance, and the Bulldogs will have plenty of momentum early this season.
8. Dan Mullen is due: Perhaps the biggest stretch of any of the 10, Mullen has led MSU to four straight bowl appearances, but he has also lost his last 14 games to ranked opponents. If any coach in the SEC is due for a breakout season, it’s Mullen. This year’s Bulldogs may be Mullen’s most talented team since arriving in Starkville, and he will have the opportunity to get a few monkeys off his back this season.
9. Geoff Collins’ coaching: The Bulldogs’ defense has gotten better in each of Collins’ four seasons as defensive coordinator, and that’s not a coincidence. The team finished 2013 in the top-five in the conference in total defense, rushing defense, third-down defense, pass defense and interceptions. Most of the team’s returning starters on defense are Collins’ recruits, and as the unit continues to build on its own progress from year-to-year it has become one of the scariest units in the conference.
10. A little bit of luck: The SEC West is stacked, and there’s no getting around it. To get to 10 wins, MSU will have to beat some quality teams it hasn’t beaten in the Dan Mullen era, like LSU, Alabama or Auburn. The Bulldogs will need the ball to bounce their way a few times this season, but what 10-win team doesn’t? This team has the talent, and with a little bit of luck Mississippi State can win 10 games.