OFFENSE – This is by far the deepest and most talented team that Coach Mullen has had since he arrived in Starkville. And He’s finally got the Quarterback for his system.
A Dak Prescott-led offense should shatter about every single season school record. Dak is a special talent. From arm strength to running ability to just having the will to win and making others around him better, there are not many quarterbacks in the nation as versatile as Dak Prescott.
Dak will be the face of the Bulldogs for years to come not only because of his on-field talents, but also because he’s a special young man off the field.
Dak, however, is not the only weapon this offense possesses.
With junior Josh Robinson, senior Nick Griffin, junior Brandon Holloway, and sophomore Ashton Shumpert taking handoffs, this group is bound to be the best back field Mississippi State fans have ever seen. Robinson is the Bulldogs best all-around back and will be the starter at the beginning of 2014, but Griffin and Shumpert bring bone-crushing power, and Holloway brings game-changing speed. This unit is being severely underrated by most media outlets.
The receiving corps of senior
Jameon Lewis, sophomore D’Runnya Wilson, senior Robert Johnson, sophomore Fred Ross, sophomore Fred Brown, junior Joe Morrow, redshirt freshman Gabe Myles, and true freshman Jamoral Graham will be fun to watch with Jameon making plays with his ankle-breaking ability; Wilson, Ross, Brown, and Morrow stretching the field; and Myles and Graham providing much needed rests behind Jameon. That is if Graham doesn’t end up redshirting, which is a good possibility.
Keep an eye on the two Freds. They had a great spring and could be ready to explode.
The tight ends are also a strength for this Bulldog team led by three-year starter senior Malcolm Johnson, who has the potential to be a first team All-SEC performer. This unit added a different dimension to its artillery this year with the addition of juco transfer Dorrion Hutcherson. At 6’7”, 260 pounds. Hutcherson is a big, strong guy who can block as well as catch passes. I see him factoring in a lot of jump balls in the end zone.
Also back for depth are senior Brandon Hill and sophomore Gus Walley. If Walley can stay healthy, he could make a huge impact. This unit will be one of the best in the SEC by year’s end.
A lot of people question the Bulldogs offensive line, but I do not. Gabe Jackson is a huge loss and will not be easily replaced, but Mississippi State returns junior Justin Malone, who is coming back from a season-ending injury last year, to fill the void at right guard. Malone possesses next level potential and is the Bulldogs’ most versatile lineman. Devon Desper, who had a terrific spring, will backup Malone.
At left guard, sophomore Jamaal Clayborn will be the name to remember, but former walk-on and senior Ben Beckwith will begin the season as the starter. Ben has made tremendous strides in his Bulldog career, and if not for him stepping in and doing a fantastic job after Malone’s injury last year, the Bulldogs would have been in a world of trouble. Clayborn is that road grader in the mold of Gabe Jackson and is well ahead of his progression schedule.
Returning at left tackle is senior Blaine Clausell who is a four-year starter and a guy that has improved each year. He had a career game against Jadeveon Clowney last year. Look for Clausell to be the leader of this underrated unit. Sophomore Cole Carter will be Clausell’s backup. He’s a guy that’s very athletic, but doesn’t have much experience.
At right tackle, the Bulldogs will be starting a young man who has all the tools needed to play the position. Sophomore Justin Senior had a great spring, and he’s athletic enough to become a very good right tackle before his Bulldog career ends. Backing Senior up will be former tight end Rufus Warren, who will be entering his junior year, and he’s athletic enough to be a factor for the Bulldogs this year.
Four-year starter Dillon Day is back to man the center position. Day could very well be the best center in the SEC and is considered one of the top centers in the nation. Backing Day up will be fellow senior Archie Muniz who is very versatile, and he has also played tackle and guard in his career.
A couple more offensive lineman of note are redshirt freshmen Kent Flowers and Jake Thomas. They both have the ability to move up the depth charts. Juco transfer Jocquell Johnson and incoming freshman Deon Calhoun have the talent to provide depth right away, but as of now, I think the plan is for both of them to redshirt. This is another Bulldog unit that is being severely underrated and flying under everyone’s radar.
OUTLOOK – This offense as a whole has a chance to be very special. Mullen finally gets to use his entire play book, and he’s loaded with weapons. This offense also has great chemistry and they are like family on and off the field. 2014 will be very exciting for Bulldog fans. Buckle up and enjoy the ride. I predict that this Mississippi State team is about to make a STATEment!
DEFENSE – The Bulldogs lose strong safety Nikoe Whitley, and that makes the return of Senior Jay Hughes from a season ending injury huge. Hughes is a leader on the Bulldog defense and just a hard-nosed smart football player. His backup will be Junior Kendrick Market, who did a remarkable job filling in for Hughes after he went down last year. I expect to see a lot of these two on the field at the same time this year.
The starting free safety will be senior Justin Cox. Being one of the fastest players on the team and with his ball hawking ability, I expect Cox to have a monstrous 2014 season and move his way up many draft boards. His combination of size, speed, and ability will make NFL executives drool. Backing up Cox will be sophomores Deontay Evans and Kivon Coman, who both possess the talent to provide quality depth behind him.
Junior Taveze Calhoun and senior Jamerson Love are back as the starting corners, but junior Will Redmond may be the most talented of the bunch. I expect to see a lot of Redmond and Calhoun on the field together this year. Providing depth for this talented crew will be sophomore Tolando Cleveland, redshirt freshman Jahmere Irvin-Sills, and sophomore Cedric Jiles. Jiles will miss the first few weeks of the season due to injury.
The Bulldogs return three linebackers with starting experience, and junior middle linebacker Bernardrick McKinney is the leader of this loaded group. With size, speed and athleticism, this unit is not only being underrated by many, but it has the chance to be one of the best in the entire country. You won’t find another linebacking crew anywhere in the country that has the size/speed combo of this group.
McKinney is projected to be a first round draft pick and possibly the first linebacker off the board in the 2015 NFL draft. Senior Matthew Wells, one of the fastest players on the team, gives this unit two freak athletes to go along with sophomore Ben Brown as the other starting outside linebacker.
Sophomore Richie Brown will be the first off the bench and could be a starting Linebacker on many SEC teams this year. Junior Zach Jackson, senior Christian Holmes, sophomore Quandry Antoine, and redshirt freshman Dez Harris round out the depth at a very deep position.
Harris has been hailed as the next star linebacker at Mississippi State along with true freshmen Gerri Green and JT Gray.
I expect Green to be too talented to keep off the field this year, but I think we will see Gray redshirt to add a little weight to his frame. Both will make a splash before their Bulldog careers are over.
Speaking of a talented unit, this defensive line will be crazy good. Led by star sophomore defensive tackle Chris Jones, this unit is one of the best in the entire nation. He’s listed as the backup on the depth chart behind seniors PJ Jones and Kaleb Eulls, but we all know he will be getting the majority of the snaps. Jones is a future millionaire, the best defensive lineman in the SEC, and possibly the best in the country.
I expect sophomore Nick James to explode onto the scene this year. A guy with the size/strength/speed combo of James will be hard to keep off the field, no matter the experience ahead of him.
Senior Curtis Virges and true freshman Corey Thomas will provide extended depth.
Defensive end Preston Smith returns as a three-year starter. Smith has had a very good career that has gone almost unnoticed by many outside of Mississippi State. That said, I expect Smith to go out with a bang.
Starting opposite of Smith will be junior Ryan Brown, who is barely ahead of sophomore AJ Jefferson. Although he may not be the starter at the beginning of the season, I expect Jefferson to see a lot meaningful playing time. He has the much needed pass rushing ability to be a major contributor for this Bulldog defense.
Backing them up is the athletic and versatile Nelson Adams, who will also be seeing time at defensive tackle; sophomore Torrey Dale, junior John Harris, and possibly true freshman Grant Harris barring a redshirt. Yet again, this is another deep and talented group for the Geoff Collins-led “Psycho Defense.”
OUTLOOK – This defense is loaded with talent and depth. It has the tools to be a top 2 or 3 defense in the SEC. Coach Collins has these guys ready to bring the pain, and after the way they ended the 2013 season, this defense shouldn’t be under anyone’s radar. It matches up well with any offense in the country.
SPECIAL TEAMS – Sophomore Evan Sobieski and true freshman Westin Graves battled it out for the kicker spot during the spring, and as of now, Evan holds a slight edge. This is a spot that needs to improve significantly this season and is by far the biggest question mark entering 2014.
Last year’s Kicker, junior Devon Bell, will be handling the punting duties, and he has a big time leg. The explosive Jameon Lewis will be returning punts and kicks this season along with Justin Cox and Will Redmond.
MY FINAL VERDICT – With the talent and experience from the top of the roster to bottom of it, I see this Bulldog team breaking out this year and exploding on to the national scene in the same way South Carolina did a few years back and the way Baylor is doing now.
I can’t see any team in the SEC going undefeated this year, but I can see the Bulldogs going 10-2 and playing in a big time bowl game. Playing Alabama, LSU, and Ole Miss on the road will make for a tough row to hoe, but if any Dan Mullen-led team can survive it, this one can. I predict the Bulldogs pick up their tenth win in the 2014 Egg Bowl and make it five wins out of the last six meetings against the Rebels.
Buckle up and enjoy the ride. I have a feeling that this Bulldog team is about to make a STATEment!
Best case – 10-2
Worst case – 7-5