Mississippi State is coming off one of the best seasons in school history. But with only seven returning starters, can the Bulldogs contend for 10 wins and the SEC West title once again? Don’t count out coach Dan Mullen’s team in 2015, especially with a Heisman contender in quarterback Dak Prescott.
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Previewing Mississippi State’s Offense for 2015
The biggest reason Mississippi State and its fans believe 2014 wasn’t a one-hit wonder is Dak Prescott, who set 12 single-season records during his breakout junior campaign. He became the first Bulldog ever to finish a season with more than 3,000 total yards, piling up 4,470. This year he’ll be asked to do even more, but with less around him. Three quarterbacks wait in the wings for their opportunity next season — junior Damian Williams and a pair of redshirt freshmen, Nick Fitzgerald and Elijah Staley.
The Bulldogs must replace running back Josh Robinson and his 1,203 rushing yards. Ashton Shumpert ended last year with some momentum, gaining 207 yards in the final four games of the regular season. The job won’t be handed to him, however. Redshirt freshmen Dontavian Lee and Aeris Williams are fighting for time, and true freshman and early enrollee Malik Dear also got some reps in the spring.
De’Runnya Wilson returns as one of the top receivers in the SEC. He caught 47 passes for 680 yards and nine scores last season. Slot receiver Jameon Lewis must be replaced. Top candidates are Gabe Myles and junior college transfer Donald Gray.
There’s no bigger question for Mississippi State heading into 2015 than the offensive line. The Bulldogs must identify new starters at tackle, guard and center. They have replacements at guard and tackle but lost all three of their centers to graduation.
Previewing Mississippi State’s Defense for 2015
The Bulldogs are without three starters on the defensive front heading into 2015, but the losses look worse on paper than in reality. Chris Jones, arguably the team’s most talented defensive player, technically did not start last year and will slide into one of the open spots at tackle. The losses at end, however, could be a bit of an issue. Preston Smith takes his team-high nine sacks and 15 tackles for a loss to the NFL. Senior Ryan Brown will be asked to replace Smith’s production.
Gerri Green, a talented redshirt freshman, is in position to take over for Benardrick McKinney at middle linebacker. The coaches love his potential, but replacing the best player on the defense is a lot to ask. Outside backer Beniquez Brown, who finished second on the team in tackles last season, will be asked to replace McKinney’s production and leadership. MSU’s coaches and players rave about his football IQ.
Mississippi State’s defense allowed the most passing yards in the SEC last year. The Bulldogs lose three starters from the secondary, including both safeties. Kivon Coman and Deontay Evans worked at safety with the first-team defense during spring practice. Freshman Jamal Peters will be tough to keep off the field when he arrives in the fall. Taveze Calhoun, who started all 13 games at corner last season, did not participate in the spring due to injury but will be good to go in the fall.
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Mississippi State found a reliable option at kicker in 2014 after a disastrous 2013. Unfortunately, that option is not available in 2015. Evan Sobiesk, who made 12-of-14 attempts last year, left the team to pursue a career in dentistry. Devon Bell, the punter, is the only player on the roster with a made field goal in his career, but he has converted only 6-of-14 attempts. Bell returned to field-goal kicking in the spring.
Mississippi State loses seven starters on offense and eight on defense. That much turnover won’t be easy to overcome. The expectations with the fans won’t change, though, after they tasted the promised land last year with a No. 1 ranking. Prescott, one of the best players in the SEC, will be able to mask a lot of the holes. How many and how well could decide the Bulldogs’ season.