Mississippi State fans find themselves in quite the quandry. They’ve to….you know…..EXPECT BETTER (we say that loudly, and with a bit of cowbell), thanks to the excellent recruiting job done by Dan Mullen. They didn’t expect the second-half collapse against Ole Miss. They didn’t expect to lose to Northwestern in the Gator Bowl. They didn’t expect to five out of their last six going last season…especially The Egg Bowl.

If we’re honest, within the state of Mississippi there’s a lot of press, and there’s a lot of momentum. Unfortunately, the press and momentum is all going toward their most hated rival – Ole Miss. By damn, Hugh Freeze has put together an excellent recruiting class – and suddenly the boo boys – who obviously weren’t there for the awful years at MSU endured – are starting to talk at Coach Mullen. “Can we recruit? Can we win another Egg Bowl? Is there a God?”, they ask, fretting.

The truth is actually a little in the middle.

LAST YEAR

Mississippi State did what they did at the start of last season, winning seven straight games and guaranteeing them a spot in a bowl. But as soon as they came across competent opposition (no disrespect Kentucky, Tennessee and Auburn, but no-one in their right mind would have called you competent last year), they flapped, and lost four out of their last five regular season games, with the lone victory coming against an incompetent Arkansas. They capped their season off with a 34-20 loss to Northwestern, which managed to silence a few of the Big Ten haters. And nothing seems to annoy SEC fans like losing to a Big Ten team.

But now what?

OFFENSE

Despite Russell’s situation last year not being helped last year by the underperformance of his receivers and an inexperienced offensive line, he still managed to throw for 2,897 yards and 24 touchdowns. The problem is is that his best targets – including Chad Bumphis – have all left Starkville, and he’s going to have to depend on running back LaDarius Perkins, who ran for 1,000 yards last year, and tight end Malcolm Johnson, who had 171 yards receiving in just 10 catches last year. He’s the top returning recognized receiver. A lot of fans will be hoping that incoming freshman Fred Ross will play – he lit up a practice on August 1, according to the Clarion-Ledger, catching “everything that was thrown to him”. We can’t wait, actually.

DEFENSE

A lot of good things have been spoken about defensive tackle Kaleb Eulls (and especially his life-saving skills), and linebacker Bernardrick McKinney, but the secondary is going to be where the problem is – especially trying to replace Johnthan Banks, who was one of the best defensive backs Starkville has ever seen. Nickoe Whitley, a free safety who performed well last season, will have a lot of pressure on his shoulders. We’re not going to expect a whole lot from a defense that returns five starters.

SCHEDULE

Aug. 31     vs. Oklahoma State   (Houston, Texas)
Sept. 7     ALCORN STATE
Sept.14     at Auburn
Sept.21     TROY
Oct.  5     LSU
Oct. 12     BOWLING GREEN
Oct. 26     KENTUCKY
Nov.  2     at South Carolina
Nov.  9     at Texas A&M
Nov. 16     ALABAMA
Nov. 23     at Arkansas
Nov. 30     OLE MISS

The schedule just isn’t that nice for the Cowbell Boys. With a young defense they face one of the most dangerous offenses in college football in Oklahoma State. And after going 1-1 against mighty Alcorn State, the travel to a revitalized Auburn side could well be a loss. Troy at home? Win. LSU at home? Depends which LSU – who have lost their fair share of talent – show up. Bowling Green and Kentucky at Davis-Wade? Win. South Carolina and Texas A&M on the road and home to Alabama? All three losses. Arkansas on the road? A toss-up….rather like the rivalry game on the last weekend of the season with Ole Miss.

BOTTOM LINE An optimist would see Mississippi State go 7-5….and if they can shock Oklahoma State, 8-4. A realist wouldn’t be shocked if they miss a bowl game and go 4-8, losing games on the road at Arkansas, the Egg Bowl and at Auburn in the process.

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