Sometime past midnight on Saturday going into Sunday this past weekend, I had a realization. Well, two. One was that it would be brutal to be a Pac-12 fan living on the East Coast. Having to watch your team play in #Pac12AfterDark is probably fun every once in a while, but doing that regularly would be tough for the pro-sleep crowd.

The other, more important realization? Mississippi State has a darn good football team, and sooner or later, everyone else will see that.

Somehow, AP voters didn’t see that. They left the Bulldogs out of the Top 25 while putting in Texas A&M, which most recently gained 9 first downs in a loss as a 3-score favorite to Appalachian State. What those people were watching, I couldn’t tell you. As for me, I watched a group that’s becoming a whole lot more balanced than what it’s getting credit for. There aren’t 25 teams better than MSU, and dare I say, there might not be more than a handful of SEC teams that are better than the Bulldogs.

That’s bad news for this weekend’s opponent, LSU, and it’s bad news for the rest of the SEC West.

I suppose it’s worth mentioning that not everyone is sleeping on the Bulldogs. The oddsmakers have them as a slight favorite this weekend in Death Valley, where MSU has only won twice in the past 3 decades.







If you haven’t been paying attention, that might be a bit of a surprise. If you looked at all the positives working in MSU’s favor entering the season, you’re not surprised. It wasn’t just that Mike Leach returned a prolific quarterback in Year 3 in the Air Raid, or that the majority of his pass-catchers were back. It was that MSU entered the year ranked No. 8 in the country in percentage of returning defensive production. Mind you, that was for a group that ranked No. 3 in the SEC against the run in 2021.

This stat illustrates just how experienced MSU is in Zach Arnett’s 3-3-5:

It shows. MSU flies to the football. Tyrus Wheat and Jett Johnson are always seemingly in the right place at the right time, and Emmanuel Forbes is the best SEC corner that nobody talks about (he actually should’ve had 2 interceptions against Arizona but his heel came down out of bounds in the end zone on the first one).

Through 2 games, MSU is No. 8 in the country in yards per pass attempt allowed (5.25) among teams with 2 games vs. FBS competition. And if we exclude games vs. FCS competition, the Bulldogs are No. 23 against the run.

So to recap, MSU is extremely experienced defensively, and it’ll face an LSU offense that looked completely lost in 55 of the 60 minutes it played against FBS competition so far. Not ideal. LSU’s offensive line looked like a total liability against Florida State, and it could look like a total liability against MSU. The Bulldogs had Arizona quarterback Jayden de Laura all out of sorts. He averaged 4.9 yards per attempt and spent the majority of his night running for his life.

That could be the case not just for Jayden Daniels, but the majority of the SEC West. Outside of Arkansas, how many teams in the division feel good about their offensive line right now? Anyone? Bueller?

On the flip side, MSU’s offensive line is the area of weakness that LSU would ideally like to attack. In a post-Charles Cross world, MSU only allowed 3 sacks in its first 2 games. Considering the Bulldogs lead Power 5 in pass attempts per game (49.5), that’s not a bad number at all even though Cross’ left tackle replacement, Kwatrivous Johnson, actually ranks dead last among SEC tackles in PFF pass-blocking grade.

Keeping Rogers clean was always the top priority for this MSU offense. But dare I say, Leach is evolving. MSU is … wait for it … running the football? I mean, 29 rushing attempts per game still isn’t among the top 100 in FBS, but it’s a whole lot more than the FBS-lowest (by a mile) 20.9 rushing attempts per game it boasted in 2021. Game flow probably inflated that stat a touch in these first 2 games, but MSU ran the ball 9 (!) times on its first 2 drives to kick off the season. Soon, maybe we’ll actually see MSU use a tight end.

Just kidding. It’s still the Leach Air Raid.

There are 2 historic data points working against Leach and Co. that the MSU skeptics will probably point to before acknowledging the 2022 squad’s potential.

One is that Leach has only had 1 top-30 defense in his career as a head coach. It was the 2005 Texas Tech squad, which went 9-3 in the regular season. The other ceiling-defining stat is that MSU has just 1 winning season in SEC play in the 21st century. It came in that historic 2014 season, wherein Dak Prescott led MSU all the way to the No. 1 ranking in the first Playoff Poll.

Nobody should be saying this 2022 MSU squad has that kind of upside yet, but remember what it took for the 2014 Bulldogs to get some national love. They had to go into Death Valley and knock off LSU in order to crack the AP Top 25 for the first time this season.

Perhaps history will repeat itself on Saturday. Maybe then the rest of the world will come to the same conclusion I did amidst my weary state.

Don’t sleep on that squad in Starkville.