In Week 1 last season, Mississippi State dominated Southern Miss 49-0. The Bulldogs racked up 550 yards of total offense, which set the stage for a historic 10-win season that included the first No. 1 national ranking in school history. The Eagles have shown slow, but steady improvement over the last few seasons and finished 3-9 in 2014.
State lost several of its best players from last year’s team, especially on the defensive side of the football. However, head coach Dan Mullen has built a deep and talented roster capable of competing again in the SEC West. Plus, Mullen has one of the nation’s most explosive quarterback-wide receiver combos in Heisman Trophy candidate Dak Prescott and 6-foot-5 wideout De’Runnya Wilson.
Mississippi State at Southern Miss
Kickoff: 10 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: Fox Sports 1
Spread: Mississippi State -21
Three Things to Watch
1. Another Record-Setting Performance for Dak Prescott
The 2014 season was arguably the greatest in Mississippi State football history, but the individual performance of quarterback Dak Prescott was unquestionably the best ever for a Bulldogs signal-caller. No player in MSU history had ever accounted for more than 3,000 total yards in a single season, but Prescott had 3,449 passing yards and added 986 rushing yards last year. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound dual threat took part in 41 touchdowns last season, which is another of the 17 school records he now owns. Through three seasons, Prescott also has 41 career passing TDs, which puts him just one behind Tyler Russell for the all-time school record. Expect that record to fall Saturday night in Hattiesburg.
2. Many New Faces on Both Sides
One of the biggest storylines of the offseason for Mississippi State was the loss of 15 starters combined on offense and defense. Southern Miss returns 15 starters from last year’s squad, but also brought in 21 total transfers from either junior colleges or other FBS programs to compete for starting positions. Former Rutgers and JUCO tight end Taylor Marini is listed as the starter at tight end on the Golden Eagles' Week 1 depth chart, while former TCU quarterback Tyler Matthews and Michigan transfer running back Justice Hayes are both still in the mix at their respective positions. Four transfers are expected to start on defense: former Kansas defensive tackle Andrew Bolton, and a trio of JUCO transfers in Spur Sherrod Ruff and defensive backs D’Nerius Antoine and Devonta Foster.
3. Manny Diaz and the New Mississippi State Defense
The Bulldogs lost a lot of personnel on both sides of the football, but one of the most important losses was defensive coordinator Geoff Collins, who left Starkville for the same position with the Florida Gators. That opened the door for the return of Diaz, who was State’s DC in 2010, but spent last season on the sidelines of C-USA Western Division champ Louisiana Tech. Diaz’ defense led the country in turnovers and tied for the lead in interceptions. He also helped Tech beat Southern Miss 31-20 by holding the Eagles to minus-31 rushing yards and sacking the quarterback five times.
Mississippi State probably won’t be quite as good as it was last season, and Southern Miss has a chance to be quite a bit better than it was in 2014, plus the Eagles have a unique opportunity to host their in-state SEC opponent. But, the edge in this matchup is clearly on the side of the Bulldogs.
Prediction: Mississippi State 42, Southern Miss 14
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Allen's work on college football can also be found on SaturdayBlitz.com and FanSided.com. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.