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Last season was a weird one for Mississippi State even with tempered expectations. The Bulldogs opened by losing to South Alabama, but managed to fight through their SEC schedule to take down Texas A&M and Ole Miss and that led to a sketchy 17-16 bowl win over Miami (OH). With a lot of those guys returning, namely quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, this team should be headed for at leaall.htmst six wins with the goal probably in the eight range.
Fitzgerald came in for Dak Prescott last season and took over the team en route to 21 passing touchdowns and 10 picks to go with 1,375 rushing yards and 16 more touchdowns. His top receiver Fred Ross is gone, but Donald Gray (709 yards, 5 TDs) should take over as the big-play threat and go-to guy. Outside of Gray, there are some questions though and that extends to the running game. Aeris Williams returns (720 yards, 4 TDs), but Mississippi State would like a little more out of rushers other than Fitzgerald. And after tossing four picks in the spring game, Fitzgerald will need to keep turnovers down to keep the defense off the field.
The Bulldogs can only go up from last year’s 33.1 points allowed per game and new coordinator Todd Grantham should help. Grantham comes over from Louisville, but he’s had experience in the NFL and at Georgia so he already has SEC experience. The defense looked turnover-happy in the spring and that should help a group that was gashed by every offense a year ago (Samford scored 41 points). The front seven looks solid led by experienced linebackers in J.T. Gray and Leo Lewis, but the back end is where the questions are. If the secondary builds on that spring game and can improve from 2016, the Bulldogs could have a chance to challenge behind Alabama in the SEC West.
According to the odds in the spring at 5Dimes Sportsbook, the Bulldogs have the fourth-best odds (+5000) in the West to win the SEC, tied with Arkansas. Their schedule could be the main issue at trying to get to eight wins. The defense will get a great test in non-conference on the road against the high-flying Louisiana Tech. On their SEC schedule, nothing will come easy, starting against LSU followed by road games at Georgia and Auburn. Home games against BYU and Kentucky need to be wins before a rough stretch to close the season that features A&M, ‘Bama and Arkansas before hosting the Egg Bowl.
If the defense doesn’t improve, it could be a similar season to 2016. But if Grantham can get these guys going and continually create turnovers, the Bulldogs should give trouble to most teams in the SEC. And of course if Fitzgerald improves at all, that’s another boost to a team aiming for a better record.
2017 Mississippi State Bulldogs Football Schedule
Sept. 2 vs. Charleston Southern
Sept. 9 at Louisiana Tech
Sept. 16 vs. LSU
Sept. 23 at Georgia
Sept. 30 at Auburn
Oct. 14 vs. BYU
Oct. 21 vs. Kentucky
Oct. 28 at Texas A&M
Nov. 4 vs. UMass
Nov. 11 vs. Alabama
Nov. 18 at Arkansas
Nov. 23 vs. Ole Miss
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