Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Mississippi State Bulldogs

Mississippi State Bulldogs
Dan Mullen looked like his team was in trouble as the season opened with a loss to South Alabama. The Bulldogs were able to pull themselves together enough to finish the season 3-2 and get into the St. Petersburg Bowl  on a waiver with a 5-7 record. Will the Bulldogs have the talent and the drive to actually finish with a inning record in 2017, and better yet, can they make a push to finish as high as third in the SEC West?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
The Bulldogs have one of the more interesting QBs in the SEC in Nick Fitzgerald, who is a better runner than passer. He passed for 2423 yards last season with 23 TDs and 10 INTs. He completed just 54.3% of his passes. He was most effective when on the move, as he led the team in rushing last fall with 1375 yards and 16 scores, while averaging 7.05 yards per carry and 105.77 yards per game rushing.
Aeris Williams is a decent back when given the rock out of the backfield, as he rushed for 720 yards and four scores, and is probably the best yardage back the Bulldogs have, as he averaged 5.26 yards per carry.
Donald Gray caught 41 passes last season, which was good for second on the team. He and Keith Mixon were two of just four receivers who caught 20 passes or more last season. Mixon caught 20 passes for 227 yards.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
If Fitzgerald goes down to injury, there is no real depth behind him. There is always a risk with running QBs, and if that risk becomes reality, the Bulldogs could end up in a world of hurt trying to move the football.
The RB corps is loaded down with good, but not great backs, and that needs to change to create balance in the offense. Someone other than Williams needs to step up and show some explosiveness and some overall skill, as right now, depth at RB is thin as well.
With Fred Ross gone after catching 72 passes last season, the Bulldogs need an absolute leader, or maybe more than one, this fall. Jamal Couch, who is expected to step into the starting lineup in the place of Ross, caught just eight passes last fall.
The line has some sore spots as well, as two freshmen are slated to start at the tackle positions in Greg Eiland and Stewart Reese. That is a scary prospect.
PK Westin Graves was all over the place last fall, hitting just 11/19 FGs. Freshman Tucker Day is projected to take over that job as we head to fall camp.
What To be Excited About: Defense
The Bulldogs appear to be pretty well set at LB, as all four projected starters had solid years in 2016. Leo Lewis finished second on the team with 79 tackles on the season as a freshman. Gerri Green finished with 43 tackles, and Desmond Harris finished with 37. Transfer Montez Sweat is a JC transfer with some promise and is projected to start right out of the gate. For a unit that lost some talent after last fall, this group is primed to succeed.
The same could be said up front, where Cory Thomas and Jeffery Simmons are projected to start on the line. Both showed enough flash last season to make one believe that they could fill in seamlessly at the DE spots. Braxton Hoyett is slated to start in the middle at NT.
The Bulldogs appear to be in good shape at the Safety spots, as Bradon Bryant returns at SS, and Mark McLauren is back at FS. They combined for 113 tackles and seven PBUs last season.
Logan Cooke returns at Punter after averaging 40 yards per try last fall.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The projected starting CBs, Jamal Peters and Tolando Cleveland, left a little to be concerned about last season, as neither were effective ball hawks in 2016. The team allowed 281 yards passing per game, and i that happens again, challenging for a higher spot in the conference standings will not be a possibility. There is little depth here.
The depth and prosuction on the bench across the defense is a bit lacking, so health will be a huge priority for this football team.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Charleston Southern, 9/9 at Louisiana Tech, 9/16 LSU, 9/23 at Georgia, 9/30 at Auburn, 10/14 BYU, 10/21 Kentucky, 10/28 at Texas A&M, 11/4 U Mass, 11/11 Alabama, 11/18 at Arkansas, 11/23 Ole Miss
Final Overview
The Bulldogs need an uptick in performance this season after winning just five games to skate into a bowl in a waver because, well, there are just too many bowls. The Bulldogs have enough tools on hand to make a move in the SEC West, but there also enough concerns hanging around that, if made into a reality, could sink this football team right t the bottom of the division. Everything has to fall right into place to make it all happen. I can see a five win team again, but I can also see an eight win team if all the chips fall into place. That's living on the fence.

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