The Mississippi State Bulldogs had a memorable season in 2014. The Bulldogs finished the year with a 10-3 record and were the top-ranked team in the country for over a month. Unfortunately, this season will be far less memorable for the Bulldogs.
The only bright spot for Mississippi State is that QB Dak Prescott returned for his senior season. This will be Prescott’s third year as the starter, and after he amassed 41 touchdowns last season, Prescott will be mentioned as a Heisman Trophy contender for at least the first portion of 2015. Unfortunately, the team returns only nine starters and is woefully inexperienced. Prescott’s production will likely diminish due to the inexperience of his supporting cast. Even if he were to accumulate similar statistics, a worse record will eliminate him from serious contention.
The conference schedule is full of familiar SEC foes that will provide Mississippi State will all they can handle for eight weeks of the season. The non-conference slate is much easier. Dan Mullen, entering his seventh season as the head coach at Mississippi State, will benefit from playing the likes of Southern Miss, Northwestern State, Troy and Louisiana Tech. These four games will should guarantee the Bulldogs will play in a bowl game.
Mississippi State’s soft non-conference slate aside, the Bulldogs will be tested early in 2015. They take on LSU, Auburn and Texas A&M in the first five weeks of the season. Given that the Bulldogs will likely lose all three of these games, they could be faced with a 2-3 start to their season. This type of start would be disastrous for the Bulldogs.
A team that is playing a lot of new starters and young players will want to get out to a positive start. This allows for these players to build confidence while they are getting snaps for the first time. In Mississippi State’s case, a rough start to the season could negatively impact the confidence of the team. College football continues to see more parity due to better player development and simpler offensive schemes that reduce a player’s learning curve. These factors make maintaining and building a team’s confidence so important. The mental and emotional edge is worth more today than it was in the past.
If the Bulldogs do lose early, the likelihood they’ll be able to stay focused is obviously much lower. In recent years, teams that have come into the season and fallen flat have often struggled to finish their year strong. In some cases, once things start spiraling downwards they can’t be stopped.
On the bright side, Mississippi State did what was best for the program when they extended Mullen’s contract this offseason. Things could be much worse than staring down a potentially lackluster season. If Mullen had left then there would have been virtually no continuity or stability in the Mississippi State program. Mullen’s extension means stability for the program and the Bulldogs will likely put a better team on the field when the 2016 season rolls around.
Levi Dunagan is a SEC Football writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @Levi275.