Where: Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
The Bulldogs and Cowboys finished last season 8-5, but the team most likely to get back to eight wins 2013 is Mike Gundy’s squad as Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs try to get to a fourth straight bowl with an inexperienced team.
When Oklahoma State has the ball:
The Cowboys are going to use both quarterbacks J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf in the opener, and both are fully capable of putting up huge numbers in the offense featuring top receiver Josh Stewart, who is the conference’s best. Stewart recorded 101 receptions and 1,210 yards to go along with his seven touchdowns a year ago.
Tracy Moore and freshman Ra’Shaad Samples are players to watch when defenses double and triple-team Stewart. The absence of Joseph Randle could be an area of weakness on offense that the Bulldogs will try to expose.
Mississippi State has major questions in the secondary after losing Thorpe award winner Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay, and opening against this type of offense is brutal timing. I’m a big fan of Nickoe Whitley at safety and believe in cornerback Justin Cox, but this is a tough test with such inexperience in the defensive backfield.
Benardrick McKinney, Denico Autry and Kaleb Eulls will need to be at their best and force some turnovers to keep their offense in the game.
When Mississippi State has the ball:
Fifth-year senior quarterback Tyler Russell set school passing records last year, and LaDarius Perkins is one of the best running backs no one talks about. State returns four starters on the offensive line, and none more important than left guard and All-American candidate Gabe Jackson.
The best way to keep Oklahoma State’s offense off the field is to keep the ball away from them. I expect to see Perkins get 20 touches and reserves Josh Robinson and Derrick Milton to set up play-action passes where Russell can hit one of his receivers for a big play downfield.
Oklahoma State’s defense was pathetic in their five defeats last season, giving up 47.2 points per game in those losses. New coordinator Glenn Spencer will blitz more than Cowboys fans have witnessed in the past, but it’s still unclear if they will have much success against this veteran Bulldogs line.
Calvin Barnett, Tyler Johnson, linebackers Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey, and safety Daytawion Lowe will need to hold Mississippi State to fewer than 28 to win this game. This has the potential for a shootout if Russell can establish some chemistry with a cast of inexperienced receivers; if that takes place, a possible upset could be in the making.