Last Updated: 2017-08-30
There were some that probably thought Dak Prescott was a once-in-a-generation type of player for the Mississippi State Bulldogs. After the season that Nick Fitzgerald put together in 2016, that may not be the case at all. Fitzgerald will lead Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs into the 2017 season, as the team looks to make a bowl game for the eighth straight season. The Bulldogs tend to be an afterthought while sitting in the shadow of SEC West dynamos like Alabama and LSU, but this has been a consistent and successful program in the Mullen era.
Recruiting in the SEC is not easy for a program like Mississippi. Staying local means contending with the Alabama powerhouses. Ole Miss has had some serious recruiting upgrades during the Hugh Freeze era. Going west towards Louisiana steps into LSU’s territory, not to mention the Texas schools that are all on the hunt for talent. Going east means fighting with Georgia, Georgia Tech, and all the schools in Florida vying for talent. And, yet, Mullen’s Bulldogs just endured their first losing season since 2009. You have to respect a program like that.
That respect seems to be permeating the sports betting community. Mississippi State’s season win total line is only 5.5 at 5Dimes Sportsbook, but the juice on the over is at -150, as the Bulldogs are getting a lot of attention in the market. Keep in mind that the number does not include conference championships or bowl games. It only applies to the regular season.
||@ Louisiana Tech
||@ Texas A&M
Total Expected Wins: 5.62
Nick Fitzgerald epitomizes the term “dual-threat”. The 6-foot-5 junior threw for 2,423 yards last season and ran for 1,375 as the unquestioned leader of this offense. The scary thing is that he did it as a sophomore. A year older and a year stronger, the focal point of the Bulldogs offense is ready to follow in the footsteps of Dak Prescott and possibly even surpass what the Dallas Cowboys quarterback did for the program. Last season felt like just the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, Fitzgerald may have more scrambles for yardage than designed runs this season with a much weaker offensive line that lost 92 career starts over the offseason. The Bulldogs ran for 5.6 yards per carry last season.
Aeris Williams is back for his junior campaign and the Bulldogs have a lot of depth at the running back position. The wide receivers have some production to replace with Fred Ross. Ross’s name sits atop the all-time receiving yards list at Mississippi State, so he is a significant talent to replace. A lot of players return aside from Ross, so Fitzgerald will have some weapons that have grown up around him in this offense. Regardless of the skill players and the offensive line, as far as Fitzgerald can take them is as far as this offense will go.
This is the real key to the 2017 season for the Bulldogs. Last year, the defense allowed over 31 points per game. That was very uncharacteristic of a Mississippi State defense. A change at defensive coordinator might be just what the Bulldogs needed. Manny Diaz stepped in for the 2015 season after Geoff Collins left and provided some stability. Last season, the defense suffered under Peter Sirmon. Now, Todd Grantham brings plenty of NFL and college head coaching experience to the table. This was a slam dunk hire for Mullen and should restore the Bulldogs defense to its past levels.
There are some losses here. The Bulldogs lost a lot of defensive line talent and are hoping that JUCO transfers like Chauncey Rivers and Traver Jung can step in and replace the production of AJ Jefferson and Jonathan Calvin. Plenty of JUCO transfers are going to be viewed as plug-and-play options, which is interesting and one of the ways that Mullen can attempt to offset the recruiting hardships when it comes to incoming freshmen. A conservative approach to the defense is why I have Mississippi State power rated where I do and why their projected number of wins isn’t all that far off of the line, but this is a group that could get adjusted very quickly.
The Bulldogs have a miserable schedule. A trip to Louisiana Tech in Week 2 is a little tricky, though the Bulldogs should be down a couple notches. Getting BYU at home is no gimme and that’s a physical game. A trip between the hedges against Georgia is a tough draw from the SEC East. But, the Bulldogs have a tough schedule year after year in this division and still persevere.
Win Total Pick: Over 5.5
This is a bit chalky for my liking, but make no mistake, an improved defense and another year of Nick Fitzgerald could mean huge things in Starkville. If Todd Grantham can return the Bulldogs to that 21-24 points against range like they were for so many years under Collins, this is a team that can make some serious noise and give superior competition a lot of scares, like Alabama on November 11, which is the week after the big LSU showdown. Mississippi State only plays away from home twice after the bye week. There’s enough upside with this team to lay the price and don’t be surprised if they climb up your power ratings quickly.
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