Throw it back to the first ever College Football Playoff rankings, released in Week 10 of the 2014 season. The debut rankings featured Dak Prescott’s Mississippi State Bulldogs at the top with a 7-0 record. The Bulldogs didn’t stay in the top four – finishing 11th – and they haven’t sniffed the CFP rankings since then. They’ve cracked the Top 25 in just three of the past five seasons, never climbing higher than #14. Competing in the brutal SEC West, it’s tough to rebuild in the same division as the dynastic Alabama team, the streaky Auburn Tigers, or an impressively consistent and occasionally dominant LSU squad. It’s the challenge that Mississippi State faces once more in 2020, as they will face an uphill climb with transfer quarterback KJ Costello taking the reins under center.
Top Returners: Kylin Hill, Kobe Jones
With Costello likely taking control under center, displacing Garrett Shrader as the starter, Mississippi State will look elsewhere for consistency from players that know the system. One such player is Kylin Hill, who, if he were on a serious SEC contender, may have the chance at winning the conference offensive player of the year. Hill ran for 1350 yards and chipped in 180 receiving yards. He’s the heart and soul of the Bulldogs’ offense, and he’ll be relied on to carry the load as Costello adjusts to the offense.
Kobe Jones is the top returning pass rusher for Mississippi State, after racking up 30 tackles (7 for loss) to go with four sacks. Facing a division with four true title contenders, Jones will have a tall task, and he will be desperately needed to cause disruption in the trenches throughout the season.
Biggest Concerns: The Secondary
Secondaries across the country are facing new challenges as the college game evolves towards the spread offense, and units that lack a standout player face a tough road ahead, as more and more teams bring in elite receivers. That’s the concern that Mississippi State, which lost the two players that hauled in multiple interceptions, faces this upcoming season. Can someone step up and become a lockdown defensive back that can match-up against the SEC elite? If not, this season could be in trouble.
X-Factor: CJ Morgan
Morgan could be the answer to Mississippi State’s question marks in the secondary, after posting a strong junior season in which he tied for the team lead with 8 passes defended to go with 59 tackles and an interception. The Bulldogs may not know if they have an elite safety until they see Morgan matched up against Jaylen Waddle, Ja’Marr Chase, or any of the other elite receivers within the SEC, but Morgan’s performance in these clashes will be a key factor in determining Mississippi State’s ceiling in 2020.
SEC Record Prediction: 3-5
The Bulldogs face a brutal four-game stretch that starts with Texas A&M, followed by road trips to LSU and Alabama, and punctuated by a home clash with Auburn. I can’t see this team ready to compete in those games, but outside of that absurd stretch of games, they put forth a decent effort this year, particularly if Costello melds well with the offense. Cross-division contests with Kentucky and Missouri look like very wannabe games, as does a home game with Arkansas. It’ll be an uphill battle, but the path to conference relevancy is there in 2020.