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The Mississippi State Bulldogs put forth a fine showing in Joe Moorhead’s first season at the helm in Starkville. Hail State went on to win eight games and partook in a bowl game where it inexplicably lost to Iowa as decided favorites. Still, the pointspread defeat only dropped them to 8-5 against the spread for the year at online sportsbooks. The Dawgs ended up being one of only five teams in the SEC to get the best of linemakers by at least two games. While that’s all fine and dandy for those that wagered on the Bulldogs over the course of the season, it meant nothing to the program in the grand scheme of things. Moorhead has been quoted numerous times about how he expects his team to see things all the way through this time around. He was mainly speaking of the offense with the defense being stellar on every account. With a season of the new schemes under their collective belts and a number of players returning, Mississippi State’s offense must awaken early on with the defense likely needing extra support early on.
Nick Fitzgerald didn’t have the greatest of campaigns in his senior season. Yes, he tore things up on the ground rushing for over 1,100 yards and scoring 13 TD, but he left much to be desired as a passer. A 51.6 percent completion rate and 16:9 TD/INT ratio won’t cut it when you play in a division that also includes Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M. With that, it came as no surprise to see their eight overall wins only manage a fifth place finish. The Bulldogs are currently viewed as being on par with the Aggies who are also installed 12-1 dogs to win the SEC West. Do linemakers believe improvement will be made at the quarterback position regardless of whether it’s Keytaon Thompson or Penn State transfer Tommy Stevens nestling in under center? That remains to be seen with the offensive line, running back and wide receiver corps needing to bring in some new faces to mesh with the limited returnees from last year’s squad.
Mississippi State was flat out nasty on the defensive side of the ball a year ago. It ranked No. 1 overall in allowing 263+ yards per game as well as No. 2 in scoring after conceding just over 13.0 points per game. On top of that, it ranked No. 7 against the pass and only the Michigan State Spartans played a better brand of run defense. Unfortunately, most of the main contributors have since departed headlined by Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat up front. All the replacements got work in last season, so there is experience on hand. Even more debilitating are the losses in the secondary where Jonathan Abram and Mark McLaurin manned the safety positions. Thankfully Cameron Dantzler is back at cornerback off an All-SEC performance a season ago. The unit is all good at linebacker with Errol Thompson back looking to improve upon the 87 tackles made a season ago; he’s flanked by a couple of veterans as well and there’s extra depth to boot. All the pieces of last year’s dominating unit aren’t back, but there are some intriguing ones still hanging around.
It’s going to be darn near close to impossible for Mississippi State to do much of anything in the top-heavy SEC West if it doesn’t get improved quarterback play. If the offense once again fails to get going, the defense simply won’t be good enough to keep it in a bulk of games this time around. The Dawgs enter the season with 8 game season win total odds at top rated sportsbooks that’s seen the betting markets look to the low side of that impost more times than not. The talent is certainly there. The coaching is without a doubt there. But is it good enough to put it all together and surpass the number? The schedule is tough as nails and includes road games at Auburn, Tennessee and Texas A&M. Then it gets K-State, Kentucky, LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss at home. If the team were to go out and win eight games, it would be a successful season by most standards.