#40 Mississippi State Football 2016 Preview

Mississippi State Bulldogs
Overall Rank: #40
#10 SEC
Mississippi State had a very good year in 2015, but failed to pick up that key SEC win. Their four losses were to LSU, Texas A&M, Alabama and Ole Miss. None of those were bad losses at all, but their biggest win was an early 17-9 win over Auburn. With some key players gone, Mississippi State should take a significant step back from their nine win season, but this is a team that can keep their bowl streak going.
2015 Record: 9-4, 4-4
2015 Bowl: Belk Bowl vs. North Carolina State (W 51-28)
Coach: Dan Mullen (55-35 at Mississippi State, 55-35 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Billy Gonzales, John Hevesy
Defensive Coordinator: Peter Sirmon
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Brandon Holloway, RB, 413 yards
Passing: Nick Fitzgerald, QB, 235 yards
Receiving: Fred Ross, WR, 1,007 yards
Tackles: Richie Brown, LB, 109
Sacks: Richie Brown, LB, 6.5
Interceptions: Brandon Bryant, S, 3
Other Key Returnees: RB Ashton Shumpert, WR Donald Gray, S Kivon Coman, LB J.T. Gray, DE A.J. Jefferson, K Westin Graves
Key Losses: QB Dak Prescott, WR De’Runnya Wilson, WR Fred Brown, DE Chris Jones, LB Beniquez Brown, CB Taveze Calhoun
This team will not be the same without quarterback Dak Prescott. He threw for 3,793 yards and 29 touchdowns last season and added 588 yards and ten more scores on the ground. That is a lot of production and a lot of leadership lost. Nick Fitzgerald figures to step into the starting role after backing up Prescott as a freshman. However, he does have plenty of competition. Regardless of who ends up at quarterback, they will have plenty of talented receiving targets. Fred Ross caught 88 passes for 1,007 yards and five scores last season and Donald Gray is ready to emerge as the team’s top deep threat. Fitzgerald can run the ball, but the ground game needs to get better. Everybody is back, including Brandon Holloway who rushed for 413 yards and caught 33 passes for 396 yards and five scores. Holloway is probably not going to pick up those tough yards so the hope is Aeris Williams or Ashton Shumpert can handle more carries this year and emerge as viable running backs in the SEC.
The Bulldogs defense was a bit of a letdown last season, but now the staff and scheme will be completely different. New defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon will install a 3-4 defense that they hope can solve some of the problems. And there is talent here so it is very possible that the unit could improve quite a bit. A.J. Jefferson is a proven pass rusher and recorded 5.0 sacks and 13.5 tackles-for-loss. Linebacker Richie Brown will line up as one of the middle linebackers. He led the team with 109 tackles and 6.5 sacks during his junior campaign. Will Coleman will move to the hybrid position after playing defensive end last year. He has the versatility to rush the passer or drop into coverage. The secondary has a lot of experience with seniors Tolando Cleveland, Cedric Jiles and Kivon Coman leading the way. However, sophomore Brandon Bryant is the star of the unit. Bryant recorded 63 tackles and a team high three interceptions as a freshman and he is ready to emerge as a star in the SEC.
The Bottom Line:
This will be an interesting year for Mississippi State. After winning 19 games over the last two years, the expectations are growing. The SEC West is brutal though and it is not surprising that most are picking the Bulldogs to finish dead last in the division. That was the case last year too though. Nine wins will be extremely difficult to reach this year, but the schedule is manageable enough for the Bulldogs to get back to a bowl game and maybe pull off a surprise or two along the way.
Projected Bowl: Birmingham Bowl
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 144.1 (100th in nation, 12th in conference)
Passing Offense: 316.4 (14, 2)
Total Offense: 460.5 (31, 3)
Scoring Offense: 23.2 (36, 9)
Rushing Defense: 174.6 (70, 10)
Pass Defense: 216.5 (57, 10)
Total Defense: 391.2 (56, 10)
Scoring Defense: 23.2 (36, 9)
Turnover Margin: -0.31 (92, 12)
Sacks: 2.31 (45, 6)
Sacks Allowed: 2.46 (90, 10)

Madness 2016 Recruit Rankings:
#21 Jeffery Simmons
#217 Erroll Thompson
#249 Marquiss Spencer