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The Bulldogs had a respectable 2015, finishing with nine wins and winning their bowl game. However, a lot of that was due to Dak Prescott, who did pretty much everything for the offense with 39 total touchdowns and just five interceptions. He's gone and it's worth mentioning they still had trouble taking down the SEC's best last year. With a question at quarterback, Mississippi State has its work cut out for them.
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There is little separation between the four guys competing at quarterback with Nick Fitzgerald, who got some time last year, and Elijah Staley, the supposed frontrunners. But again, nothing was certain on that front after the spring game. With questions at quarterback, the Bulldogs will need to find offense elsewhere and that means more production from their running backs. As Prescott led the team in rushing a year ago, Brandon Holloway (413 yards, 0 TDs) and Ashton Shumpert (228 yards) need to have a bigger impact.
The offensive line has three pieces returning and that should at least form some kind of familiarity with the group, although they weren't great to begin with in 2015. The receivers may be the best part of the offense with Fred Ross (88 receptions, 1,007 yards, 5 TDs) and Fred Brown leading the way. Of course, those two need someone to get them the ball.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, they also lost some studs on the defensive side and have some big pieces to replace. A couple new faces stood out in the spring game, which was good, but it's not like the offense is in a place to succeed at the moment. Peter Sirmon comes over from USC as the new defensive coordinator, so they will have a new scheme to break in as well.
If anything, it looks like the edges will be a strong suit for the MSU defense. Will Coleman stood out in the spring in a hybrid linebacker/end role, while Johnathan Calvin had four sacks in the scrimmage. Calvin is joined by A.J. Jefferson on the other side. The Bulldogs bring back seven starters, but the problem is that they lost their best players.
It doesn't help Mississippi State that its schedule is quite unkind. At the least, they get to open the campaign with a couple winnable home games, but from there it's up in the air, starting with a road game at LSU. Home games against Auburn, Texas A&M and Arkansas will be important to win if they want to reach eight or maybe even seven wins. The problem is that the A&M and Arkansas games are in between road tests at Alabama and Ole Miss.
The loss of Prescott and defensive playmakers is huge, but Dan Mullen usually gets the most out of his players. That'll need to be the case this year, otherwise, the Bulldogs could be in trouble. First things first, Mississippi State needs to find a quarterback that can produce hopefully half as much as what Prescott did for them. And if the running game can't get going, they're going to have major problems scoring, especially against the SEC West.
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2016 Mississippi State Bulldogs Football Schedule
Sept. 3 vs. South Alabama
Sept 10 vs. South Carolina
Sept. 17 at LSU
Sept. 24 at Massachusetts
Oct. 8 vs. Auburn
Oct. 15 at BYU
Oct. 22 at Kentucky
Oct. 29 vs. Samford
Nov. 5 vs. Texas A&M
Nov. 12 at Alabama
Nov. 19 vs. Arkansas
Nov. 26 at Ole Miss
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