#48 Mississippi State Football 2017 Preview

Mississippi State Bulldogs
Overall Rank: #48
#11 SEC
Mississippi State managed to sneak into a bowl game last year thanks to their APR score. They won only five regular season games before knocking off Miami (OH) in the St. Petersburg Bowl. The SEC West is always tough, but this time around the Bulldogs have much higher bowl aspirations.
2016 Record: 6-7, 3-5
2016 Bowl: St. Petersburg Bowl vs. Miami (OH) (W 17-16)
Coach: Dan Mullen (61-42 at Mississippi State, 61-42 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Billy Gonzales, John Hevesy
Defensive Coordinator: Todd Grantham
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Nick Fitzgerald, QB, 1,375 yards
Passing: Nick Fitzgerald, QB, 2,423 yards
Receiving: Donald Gray, WR, 709 yards
Tackles: Leo Lewis, LB, 79
Sacks: Traver Jung, DE, 2.5
Interceptions: Mark McLaurin, S, 2
Other Key Returnees: RB Aeris Williams, WR Malik Dear, LB J.T. Gray, S Brandon Bryant, DL Cory Thomas
Key Losses: WR Fred Ross, LB Richie Brown, DL A.J. Jefferson, DL Johnathan Calvin, S Kivon Coman, LB DeAndre Ward
By the end of last season the Mississippi State offense finally learned how to play with Dak Prescott. Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald threw for 2,423 yards and 21 touchdowns with ten interceptions as a sophomore. He needs to be more consistent and accurate after completing just 54.3 percent of his pass attempts. But Fitzgerald is about so much more than his arm. He also rushed for 1,375 yards and 16 scores. Donald Gray is the team’s top returning receiver, but there is not much experience behind him. There is talent in the slot with Keith Mixon and some quality tight ends, but somebody out wide besides Gray needs to step up. Running back Aeris Williams worked very well with Fitzgerald in their option packages. He rushed for 720 yards and four scores. However, the entire offense may not be as productive as they were late last season if the offensive line doesn’t successfully replace three starters.
Once again Mississippi State has a new defensive coordinator. Todd Grantham takes over and will likely want to get more pressure on the opposition. That starts on the line where Jeffery Simmons leads an inexperienced unit. The sophomore tackle is an emerging talent though. On the edge, players like Chauncey Rivers, Traver Jung and Montez Sweat will all get the opportunity to rush the passer whether it be from the front line or at outside linebacker. Sophomore Leo Lewis is the team’s top returning tackler with 79. He could be the star of this defense starting this season. Brandon Bryant is an experienced safety and Mark McLaurin should play well next to him, yet there are questions at cornerback. Tolando Cleveland miss last season with an injury and he could be the answer for a unit that ranked 120th in the FBS in pass defense if he can stay healthy.
The Bottom Line:
The 2016 campaign was supposed to be a rebuilding year and it was. This year should be better. In the SEC West though that does not necessarily mean a vast increase in wins. With their first three SEC games against LSU at home and trips to Georgia and Auburn, the Bulldogs could find themselves in a deep hole by the end of September. However, even when SEC title hopes are quickly gone, this is still a team that should be back in a bowl game.
Projected Bowl: TaxSlayer Bowl
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 230.5 (23rd in nation, 5th in conference)
Passing Offense: 209.7 (89, 9)
Total Offense: 440.2 (44, 7)
Scoring Offense: 30.4 (56, 7)
Rushing Defense: 177.5 (70, 7)
Pass Defense: 281.5 (120, 14)
Total Defense: 459.1 (110, 12)
Scoring Defense: 31.8 (93, 13)
Turnover Margin: 0.54 (24, 3)
Sacks: 1.92 (75, 8)
Sacks Allowed: 1.38 (25, 2)
Madness 2018 NFL Draft Rankings:
#26 Martinas Rankin
#86 Nick Fitzgerald
Madness 2017 Recruit Rankings:
#75 Willie Gray
#124 Keytaon Thompson