It’s year two of the Mike Leach era in Starkville, Mississippi and the Bulldogs faithful is carefully optimistic for what could be a fun year. Year one under Coach Leach saw the Bulldogs win four games, including a bowl win over Tulsa. It might not have been much by the standards that Mississippi State has set for this program after their recent success under former Head Coach Dan Mullen, but it was the perfect start for Mike Leach and this program to build off of this fall.
Heading into last season, Coach Leach knew this program would be a bit of a rebuild after Joe Moorehead ran into the ground, but the pirate himself kept swinging his sword and carried this team into the future.
From a roster standpoint, year two under Leach could provide for some of the most exciting offensive numbers in the country, while the defense still has a few question marks after losing three players from the 2020 team.
On the offensive side of the ball, Mississippi State fans can expect Will Rogers to earn the bid as starting quarterback, with Jaden Walley being the go-to receiver on many packages this season. State fans should also expect to see guys like Malik Heath and Austin Williams put up big numbers and have a massive impact on this unit. In all honesty, with eight returning guys from last season, Mississippi State could surprise a few teams with the explosive nature of the Air Raid offense.
With that being said, Mississippi State has got to do a better job at breaking the zone coverages that gave them fits last season. However, the solution to that problem could come in the form of the talented Sophmore Running Back, Jo’quavious Marks. Marks had 70 attempts on 312 yards with three touchdowns last season. 2021 could be the year where Marks should see more touches and be the missing piece that Mississippi State needs to cross that finish line.
On the defensive side of the ball, Mississippi State returns eight guys but will look to fill the shoes of three crucial players from last season. Mississippi State has the horses to replace Kobe Jones, Erroll Thompson, and Marquiss Spencer, but it’ll be a difficult task as those three guys were the nucleus that made this unit one of the most feared in the Southeastern Conference. As far as this season goes, State fans need to watch out for their secondary, who is led by a two-headed monster in Emmanuel Forbes and Martin Emerson. Both of which have the potential to be all-SEC caliber players.
Overall, there’s no reason as to why Mississippi State can’t be in contention for a New Year’s Day Florida bowl this season. They have a tough stretch to open the season, starting with a week two matchup with NC. State on September 11th, and closing it out on October 30th with Kentucky in Starkville. During that stretch, the Bulldogs will also face the likeness of Memphis, LSU, Texas A&M, and Alabama. It’s a big if, and I get that, but if Mississippi State can go 4-3 in that span, then Mississippi State could very well win eight to nine games. In that case, Mississippi State at worst goes to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis, and at best the Outback Bowl in Tampa, both of which are really good bowls that the Bulldog faithful can be excited about.
Mississippi State will open their season on September 4th at home against Louisiana Tech.