Mississippi State is coming off a 9-4 season, the latest outing that saw the the Bulldogs go 34-18 over the last four seasons. Longtime coach Dan Mullen is gone to take over at Florida, however, and that has led to the hiring of former Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead.
Moorhead is an inventive offensive mind, and that's great news for quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who returns after suffering a dislocated foot in the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss last season. Fitzgerald was limited to 7-on-7 drills in the spring, but should be ready to go this fall. It's an opportunity for a solid program to take the next step in the SEC West.
Mississippi State opens at No. 24 in Sporting News' updated way-too-early top 25, thanks in part to a favorable schedule. It's on the Bulldogs to take advantage.
Mississippi State football schedule 2018
|Sept. 1||Stephen F. Austin||Starkville, Miss.|
|Sept. 8||at Kansas State||Manhattan, Kan.|
|Sept. 15||Louisiana||Starkville, Miss.|
|Sept. 22||at Kentucky||Lexington, Ky.|
|Sept. 29||Florida||Starkville, Miss.|
|Oct. 6||No. 8 Auburn||Starkville, Miss.|
|Oct. 20||at No. 18 LSU||Baton Rouge. La.|
|Oct. 27||Texas A&M||Starkville, Miss.|
|Nov. 3||Louisiana Tech||Starkville, Miss.|
|Nov. 10||at No. 1 Alabama||Tuscaloosa, Ala.|
|Nov. 17||Arkansas||Starkville, Miss.|
|Nov. 22||at Ole Miss||Oxford, Miss.|
|Dec. 1||SEC championship||Atlanta|
*Games in bold denote SEC games
Mississippi State football recruiting 2018
The Bulldogs ranked 27th in 247Sports' Composite 2018 team rankings. Moorhead did land a pair of four-star receivers in Devonta Jason (Landry-Walker, New Orleans) and Malik Heath (Callaway, Jackson, Miss.). Heath is the top in-state recruit, and the Bulldogs signed four of the top five recruits in Mississippi. That's a good start.
Mississippi State football roster 2018
|6||Willie Gay Jr.||LB||So.|
What to watch in 2018
1. How will Nick Fitzgerald look?
Moorhead's system is quarterback-friendly and features an intricate passing attack that's hard to defend. Fitzgerald's health will be the big question, but all indications are he'll be ready to go. He needs to be more accurate, however: he has a 55.4 completion for his career. Penn State's Trace McSorley had a 57.9 completion percentage in his first season with Moorhead before that jumped to 66.5 in 2017. Fitzgerald has to make that happen on an accelerated learning curve.
2. What will Bob Shoop do with the defense?
9 Montez Sweat DE Sr.
Bob Shoop is Mississippi State's defensive coordinator after stops in Vanderbilt (2011-13), Penn State (2014-15) and Tennessee (2016-17). The Bulldogs will show a 4-2-5 look, but depth at linebacker was a concern at the spring game. This defense is talented up front with players such as Montez Sweat, Gerri Green and Jeffery Simmons. Mark McLaurin, the team's leading tackler, anchors the secondary. It should be solid defense, and it will have to hold in big games. The Bulldogs allowed 30 or more points in their four losses last season.
3. How will Bulldogs handle early success?
The schedule is set up for eight or nine wins — perhaps even a double-digit win total — if the Bulldogs make those adjustments and handle early-season success. There's a decent chance Mississippi State will be undefeated when Mullen makes his return with Florida on Sept. 29. That's a game that will set the tone for SEC West matchups with Auburn, LSU and Alabama later in the schedule. Remember, the Crimson Tide had to rally in the fourth quarter for a 31-24 victory in Starkville in 2017.