The kickoff of the college football season has been a mixed bag for fans of the Southeastern Conference. With upset wins and surprises abounding, the once dominant super-conference of the sport could be heading for a step back in 2016.
Perhaps no program best epitomizes the challenges facing teams this year than the Mississippi State Bulldogs. No analyst was bullish on the Dawgs in 2016, with Dak Prescott among other stars moving on to the NFL (some to great success). However, no one anticipated the upset victory by South Alabama in week one in Starkville; a loss that ESPN rated as one of the biggest upsets in recent years.
Fortunately for those who bleed maroon and white, there was a nice bounce back on Saturday night versus South Carolina. A 27 to 14 victory pushed the Bulldogs back to .500, heading into an important SEC West match-up in Death Valley against LSU.
So how does the rest of the season look for MSU football fans? Here's a realistic perspective:
September 17 at LSU
Leonard Fournette returns to competition after a week off against Jacksonville State, recovering from an ankle injury sustained at Lambeau Field. Their rushing attack will not be in question versus MSU, but their quarterback play might be. Brandon Harris and Danny Etling have both played in 2016, and this decision could impact the competitiveness of the game, and the future of Les Miles as coach.
Projected Result: LSU 24, Mississippi State 17
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September 24 at UMass
The former MAC competitor UMass is in its first year of being an independent school, and has more games that they are expected to lose than win. Perhaps their only guaranteed win could come on October 29 against Wagner, but even that might not be assured. This could serve as a good tune up game for MSU ahead of Auburn to start October.
Projected Result: Mississippi State 35, UMass 10
October 8 vs Auburn
Ahead of the season, this matchup was the highlight of the home games at Davis-Wade Stadium for the maroon and white. However, recent success by Arkansas, including an upset win over #15 TCU, could supplant it. This feels like a make-or-break year for Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, where anything short of a winning record and a big win or two could mean the axe. Both teams will be hungry for a win to start October in the SEC right.
Projected Result: Mississippi State 24, Auburn 21
October 14 at BYU
While a game away in Utah at Brigham Young may seem benign at first, this quickly could become a trap game for MSU. New BYU coach Kalani Sitake has plenty of fire under him, as shown in a competitive loss to rival Utah. The team has two strong quarterbacks to choose from, too, including current starter Taysom Hill and explosive star Tanner Mangum.
Projected Result: BYU 28, Mississippi State 17
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October 22 at Kentucky
Will it be Kentucky or Vanderbilt that serves as the doormat of the SEC once again? So far it's the Wildcats that are well on their way to that title, dropping both games early this year to Southern Miss and Florida. There's a very real possibility that Kentucky enters the game against Mississippi State as a desperate team, with as few as two wins.
Projected Result: Mississippi State 37, Kentucky 17
October 29 vs Samford
It's Homecoming Weekend on the MSU campus, and another easy win could be in their grasp. However, South Alabama was supposed to be just as simple of a win as well. Either way, Bulldogs beat Bulldogs.
Projected Result: Mississippi State 56, Samford 14
November 5 vs Texas A&M
A team that entered the season unranked is suddenly rising at 2-0 behind former Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight. How high can Kevin Sumlin take his team? Well, I expect them to be in control over the MSU defense and out-duel them in Starkville.
Projected Result: Texas A&M 42, Mississippi State 37
November 12 at Alabama
If the #20 ranked team in the country can get blown out by 46 points, then what will Alabama do to Mississippi State? The Bulldogs will look to play spoiler at this point of the year, hoping to derail a likely path to the College Football Playoff for the Crimson Tide. But, I don't see the upset coming.
Projected Result: Alabama 35, Mississippi State 21
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November 19 vs Arkansas
In the middle of a very tough four-game stretch for State, perhaps the Razorbacks can be the big game that the Bulldogs can win in 2016. Arkansas was projected to finish behind Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, and Ole Miss in the SEC West. And with how wide open that division can be (below Alabama that is), who knows what will happen.
Projected Result: Mississippi State 27, Arkansas 24
November 26 at Ole Miss
Can MSU snap the two-game win streak for Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl? If so, they will have to find a way to shut down quarterback Chad Kelly and his wide receivers. But then again, maybe they will be better off waiting for after Kelly graduates...
Projected Result: Ole Miss 31, Mississippi State 28
Of course, we'll all be out wearing our maroon and white, and rooting for the Bulldogs to fight on throughout the 2016 campaign. And hey, a 6-6 final record is still a bowl eligible, especially in these days with so many bowl games.
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How do you think Mississippi State football will do this season?