#16 Mississippi State 2018 Football Preview

Mississippi State Bulldogs
Overall Rank: #16
#4 SEC
 Mississippi State Logo
Mississippi State will embark on a new era under the leadership of head coach Joe Moorhead. Former head coach Dan Mullen took the Florida job last offseason and Moorhead was the offensive coordinator at Penn State. This is not going to be your typical transition year for Moorhead as he walks into a nice situation in Starkville as the Bulldogs are primed to make a lot of noise this season in the SEC West.
2017 Record: 9-4, 4-4
2017 Bowl: TaxSlayer Bowl vs. Louisville (31-27W)
Coach: Joe Moorhead (First season at Mississippi State, 38-13 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Luke Getsy
Defensive Coordinator: Bob Shoop
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Aeris Williams, RB, 1,107 yards
Passing: Nick Fitzgerald, QB, 1,782 yards
Receiving: Jesse Jackson, WR, 276 yards
Tackles: Mark McLaurin, S, 79
Sacks: Montez Sweat, DE, 10.5
Interceptions: Mark McLaurin, S, 6
Other Key Returnees:   WR Keith Mixon, LG Darryl Williams, C Elgton Jenkins, RG Deion Calhoun, RT Stewart Reese, TE Farrod Green, DE Gerri Green, DT Jeffery Simmons, DT Braxton Hoyett, LB Leo Lewis, LB Willie Gay, S Jonathan Abram, K Jace Christmann
Key Losses:  LT Martinas Rankin, TE Jordan Thomas, P Logan Cooke, LS Hunter Bradley
Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald should be a perfect fit for coach Moorhead as Fitzgerald is a dual-threat quarterback that is dynamic in the quarterback run game. Two keys for Fitzgerald in 2018 will be to stay healthy, as he suffered a season ending ankle injury last year against Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. The other key will be to take a step forward in the passing game after completing just 55.6 percent of his passes in 2017. That number needs to get north of 60 percent in 2018 for the Bulldogs offense to flourish. Aeris Williams is the number one running back and rushed for 1,107 yards and six touchdowns last season. The wide receiver group should take a big step forward production wise this season since there will be an infusion of new talent led by Stephen Guidry and Devonta Jones.
Montez Sweat leads a defensive line that will bring plenty of pass rush for the Bulldogs this fall. Sweat had 10.5 sacks in 2017 and bypassed the NFL Draft to return for his senior season. Jeffery Simmons and Gerri Green combined for 10 sacks and 23 tackles for loss in 2017. This type of production should only increase as you can expect defensive coordinator Bob Shoop to turn these guys loose all season long. Mark McLaurin and Jonathan Abram are quality playmakers in the secondary at safety that will only get better this season. McLaurin collected 79 tackles and picked off six passes, while Abram had 71 tackles and two sacks last season. Erroll Thompson, Leo Lewis, and Willie Gay will form a solid trio at linebacker that will need to take advantage of the increased opportunities to make plays thanks to a dominant defensive line. Jace Christmann will keep the kicking game stabilized as Christmann made 12 of 14 field goals and was perfect on extra point attempts.
Bottom Line:
Week two of the 2018 schedule will send Mississippi State to Manhattan, Kansas to take on Kansas State. This will be a great test for the Bulldogs as Wildcats head coach Bill Snyder always has his teams well prepared for big time games at home. The conference schedule opens at Kentucky and then the Dan Mullen reunion tour comes to Starkville as Florida will be the SEC home opener this season. On October 6th, Auburn visits Mississippi State in what could be a game that decides second place in the SEC West. Three road trips to LSU, Alabama, and Ole Miss highlight the second half of the season and a great goal for the Bulldogs would be to win two of those three games. Bottom line, if Fitzgerald is healthy and stays that way all season long you can expect Mississippi State to win at least nine games with a chance for more if they can pull an upset along the way.
Projected Bowl: Citrus Bowl
2017 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 251.7 (11th in nation, 2nd in Conference)
Passing Offense: 166.9 (113, 14)
Total Offense: 418.6 (46, 6)
Scoring Offense: 32.0 (41, 7)
Rushing Defense: 131.6 (28, 4)
Pass Defense: 174.7 (12, 4)
Total Defense: 306.3 (10, 3)
Scoring Defense: 22.9 (38, 4)
Turnover Margin: -0.08 (72, 8)
Sacks: 2.43 (35, 2)
Sacks Allowed: 2.00 (60, 6)
Madness 2019 NFL Draft Rankings:
#45 Montez Sweat
#49 Jeffery Simmons
#72 Nick Fitzgerald
Madness 2018 Recruit Rankings:
#125 Devonta Jason
#224 Malik Heath