SEC Previews: Mississippi State Bulldogs

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. 

MLB Draft Grades: SEC – Mississippi State With A Dominant Draft, Florida Struggles

The SEC made MLB draft history when they had four of the first six players selected in the most recent draft, but how did individual programs fare – let’s score each of the 14 SEC teams from 0 to 10.

Mississippi State – 8.7
The Bulldogs had one of the best drafts in the country and in the SEC from a collegiate standpoint, as Mississippi State saw two first-round draft picks and three in the first two rounds. First rounders Justin Foscue and Jordan Westburg weren’t drafted out of high school, and the Bulldogs turned them into elite prospects in just three years. Meanwhile they kept JT Ginn as a second rounder despite recent Tommy John surgery. Their biggest concern is making sure high schooler Blaze Jordan doesn’t sign with the Boston Red Sox and gives the Bulldogs access to one of the best high school bats in the country. Great program, great draft. 

Arkansas – 5.1
The Razorbacks got an early surprise when their elite prospect – outfielder Heston Kjerstad – went second overall, but then they watched their other projected first rounder Casey Martin drop all the way into the middle of the third round, so it was a bit of a strange draft for the Razorbacks, and it’s tough to judge the program much off this shortened draft. 

LSU – 4.3
LSU had two draft prospects, both who were considered fringe first-rounders, but both slipped at least ten spots, with pitcher Cole Henry going 55th overall, and outfielder Danny Cabrera went 62nd. Nothing too much of note for the Tigers – both Henry and Cabrera will likely go pro, but their draft-day slips don’t reflect very well on LSU. 

Texas A&M – 5.0
I listed the Aggies as a loser in yesterday’s draft analysis article – as I believe they are going to lose more prospects then they anticipated. Asa Lacy went fourth overall, which reflects well, but projected third rounders Zach DeLoach and Christian Roa skyrocketed over thirty picks higher than their expected value. It’s a great long-term look for the program, if Texas A&M converts on the recruiting front, but the Aggies will be a little weaker than they anticipated in 2021. 

Ole Miss – 8.3
If Mississippi State boasted one of the best drafts in the country, at least Ole Miss wasn’t far behind. The Rebels saw both of their picks go in that perfect zone of above slot value, without going so high that they become a much higher risk of turning pro. Shortstop Anthony Servideo and third baseman Tyler Keenan went in the third and fourth rounds respectively. No top-tier talent, but the Rebels did a solid job turning these prospects into draft commodities, without seriously endangering their short-term hopes as a program. 

Auburn – 5.2
Relatively neutral stuff here from Auburn. Projected first rounder Tanner Burns slipped a little bit but snuck into the back end at pick #36, while hurler Bailey Horn somewhat unexpectedly heard his name called in the fifth round. They probably would have liked to see Burns go a little closer to his slot value, but Horn’s selection was an unexpected addition, so tough to judge this one. 

Alabama – 6.5
The Crimson Tide had one legitimate draft prospect in outfielder Tyler Gentry, and he went right about where he was supposed to, early in the third round. Alabama finished last in the SEC West last season, so this is about as good as it gets on the diamond for the Tide. 

Vanderbilt – 7.8
Vandy had a top-five pick in Austin Martin, arguably the best player in the draft, but then projected second rounder Jake Eder dropped all the way into the fourth round. Right-hander Ty Brown jumped into the third round, and hurler Mason Hickman rounded out the Commodores’ stable of picks. Lots of volume and a first rounder, so it’s hard to critique one of the best programs in the country too much. 

Georgia – 6.1
The Bulldogs came into the draft with two projected first-round hurlers, and while Emerson Hancock went sixth overall, Cole Wilcox tumbled down into the third round. Up and down draft, although the bonus is Wilcox may opt to stay another year with Georgia – he has three years of eligibility left and should be a first rounder in another year. 

Tennessee – 6.4

The Volunteers came away from the draft with three picks, headlined by eleventh overall pick Garret Crochet. Meanwhile, outfielder Alerick Soularie made one of those jumps that’s scary for a college program, from a projected early fourth rounder into the middle of the second round, where the signing bonuses became extremely enticing. Dangerous territory for the Volunteers, but overall three draft picks is a solid showing in the draft. 

Missouri – 4.6
The Tigers did very little in this draft, with only one significant draft prospect that fell 34 spots further than expected. Missouri is a middle-of-the-road SEC team, and they had a very middle-of-the-road type of draft. 

Florida – 1.0
Florida is one of the best programs in the country and won a national championship in 2017, appearing in the College World Series in 2018. Despite a tough year last year, it’s not customary for Florida to have elite talent on their roster. They only had two projected draft picks coming into last week’s draft, but then the Gators saw neither player selected, putting an exclamation point on a low point in the Florida baseball program.  

South Carolina – 6.0
Carmen Mlodzinski gave South Carolina a first round pick, but that was pretty much all the Gamecocks got in this year’s draft. About what was expected from a struggling SEC program. 

Kentucky – 4.0
Kentucky is one of the worst teams in the SEC, and they really had nothing to lose or gain from this draft with no top-level prospects. No draft picks and nothing much else to comment on here from the Wildcats.

MLB Draft: College Teams And Players Who Won and Lost the Draft

Much is made of which MLB teams had good and bad drafts, with each team’s selections graded and separated into distinct winners and losers. But what about collegiate teams? College baseball is more affected by the draft than most other sports, as high school prospects battle a decision between signing with the team that drafted them, or honoring their commitment to play at the NCAA level. So which teams and players were most impacted by the results of the shortened, two-day, five-round MLB Draft? 

Winner: Texas
There’s one reason for Texas making the winner’s category, and that reason is Jared Kelley. Kelley became the first ever draft pick out of Refugio High School in Texas, but despite being ranked as the 12th best prospect by MLB.com, Kelley’s name went uncalled during Wednesday’s first round. Fears of the power-throwing righty being a tough sign caused Kelley to slip all the way to the Chicago White Sox at pick #47. Why is that good news for Texas? Because if Kelley was considered a tough sign near the top of the first round, it’s going to be way tougher for the White Sox to lure the Texas product from his in-state commitment. The slot value for pick #12 is 4.4 million, the 47th overall pick comes with an expected 1.6 million dollar signing bonus. Getting Kelley to leave his home state for barely a third of the money is going to be a tough one to sell for the White Sox, leaving Texas ready to enjoy the luxuries of a stud who looks like he’ll be one of the best pitchers in the country. 

Losers: Mississippi State, Arizona

On the flip side of Texas’s situation is Mississippi State and Arizona, who both couldn’t have been too happy with the Boston Red Sox. For Arizona, they watched one of their premium prospects in Nick Yorke get drafted 112 spots above his ranking, going from a projected fifth-round pick to 17th overall. While the Red Sox did make the pick to save some money on the slot value of the 17th pick, they will likely make an offer far more competitive and enticing to Yorke, who was described by Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin as “the best high school hitter in the nation”. Arizona may not have anticipated it being a battle to keep Yorke in the program for the next three years, but Boston just made it a lot harder. Meanwhile. Mississippi State was likely ecstatic when viral slugger Blaze Jordan slipped all the way to the third round. The further he slipped, the more it looked like they would be benefiting from the services of one of the nation’s best power hitters, until Boston swooped in and grabbed the Missouri product at 89th overall. Boston did not have a second round pick, and they will either not sign Yorke or sign him for below slot value, leaving them with plenty of money to throw at Jordan, making his decision a lot tougher. With some of their top prospects’ future on their teams in doubt, Mississippi State and Arizona are in the losers category for this draft. 

Winner: Austin Martin
Slipping from a potential first overall pick to fifth may not be a ideal situation normally, I think this a massive win for Austin Martin. Martin got drafted to the Toronto Blue Jays, meaning he avoids the hapless organizations of the Detroit Tigers, Baltimore Orioles, Miami Marlins, and the Kansas City Royals. The Blue Jays are the only team out of that group of five that has recently shown some upside, and they have a recent track record of developing elite prospects like Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. It’s a great situation for the best all-around player in the 2020 MLB Draft.

 Loser: Texas A&M
The Aggies knew they were losing Asa Lacy, their ace left-hander was picked fourth overall. However, they then saw outfielder Zach DeLoach go 36 spots earlier than his ranking suggested, and pitcher Christian Roe jump 41 slots. Both juniors, it looks unlikely they’ll return to the crowded collegiate rosters, with their expected signing bonuses jumping up by nearly a million dollars, leaving Texas A&M floundering a little more than expected in a highly competitive SEC next season. Long-term, however, the Aggies may look like a winner if they can turn this draft night surprise into success on the recruiting front.

SEC Status Report: It’s Wide Open Down South

The SEC might be the most interesting basketball conference this year and, come tournament time, they could have a bevy of representatives. There’s easily five or six teams I think could take the title, and a handful of teams who could be extremely effective spoilers. I believe Kentucky remains a title favorite, with Florida replacing Auburn in that category as well. Auburn, LSU, and Arkansas highlight the ‘best of the rest’ in the SEC. There’s lots to be decided here, so let’s take a look at biggest risers and fallers.

Biggest Risers: Florida, Alabama, Mississippi State

  • The Gators are playing really well right now, despite their recent 2-point loss at LSU. They are 4-2 in SEC play, sitting third in the conference. They’re 7-1 at home, and I could definitely see the Gators upsetting #1 Baylor this weekend in Gainesville. With a favorable schedule after the Baylor game, Florida has put themselves in good position for a high seed and potential SEC title run.
  • Alabama opened some eyes by staying right with both Florida and Kentucky in road games, and they’ve now won three straight. They broke Auburn’s winning streak in dominant fashion, beating their rivals by 19 points. Games against Arkansas and LSU loom on the docket for the Crimson Tide, who will look to make some more noise in the SEC.
  • The Bulldogs had a bad loss to Alabama and followed it up with a heartbreaking defeat at LSU. That tough sequence could have send Mississippi State into a spiral, but they’ve responded with a pair of dominant victories (72-45 over Missouri and 91-59 over Georgia) and then a resume-boosting win over Arkansas just last night. This team is climbing back into the picture and while I wouldn’t pick them to win the SEC, I could definitely see them getting into the later rounds of the conference tournament.

Biggest Fallers: Auburn, Missouri

  • Auburn is still a very good team, but I dropped them out of the title favorite category after a 2-loss week. It wasn’t just that Auburn finally lost, but they got manhandled twice on the road by unranked teams. I’m pretty high on both Florida and Alabama, but you simply don’t do that as a top-5 team. A four-game stretch in February against Kentucky, Arkansas, LSU, and Alabama could make or break the Tigers.
  • I listed Missouri as a dark-horse title pick after they beat up on Florida 91-75, but the Tigers have not impressed since. They lost by 27 to Mississippi State, by 14 to Alabama, and at home to a dismal Texas A&M squad. I wouldn’t be surprised at this point if Missouri doesn’t even make the SEC quarterfinals, let alone the NCAA tournament.

Quick Hits

  • I believe the SEC has a lot of quality teams, and I could definitely see them sending 8 teams dancing when all is said and done. Give me LSU, Kentucky, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi State, and Tennessee in the tournament.
  • I’m putting Georgia and Missouri on the bubble in the SEC. Both teams have shown potential, but they’ve suffered some ugly losses – I don’t think they’re in right now, but a solid end to the season could change that.
  • For all the talent at the top of the division, there’s a handful of pretty bad SEC teams. Here, I’m listing four that I don’t believe have a shot at the NCAA Tournament. Teams that are declared dead are: South Carolina, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt.