These Bulldogs Are NOT a Top 25 Team
If you look at the two major preseason polls, you’ll see a total of six different SEC schools represented. Alabama, Georgia, Auburn and LSU show up on both lists. South Carolina makes the cut per the AP (but not according to the coaches). Mississippi State gets the nods from the coaches, but no love from the media.
Alas, one of these things is not like the other.
In the USA Today breakdown of the coaches poll, Erick Smith observes the following about number 18 Mississippi State [emphasis mine]:
New coach Joe Moorhead is blessed with one of the most-talented rosters in the SEC. QB Nick Fitzgerald appears to be a perfect fit in former Penn State coordinator’s offense. DL Jeffrey Simmons is one of the conference’s top defenders.
I take issue with the notion that Mississippi State is blessed with one of the most-talented rosters in the SEC. Over the past four years, Mississippi Sate’s recruiting classes have finished with an average national ranking of 23.75 (per 247Sports). The Bulldogs have signed just one 5-star prospect over that time period to go along with 19 4-star recruits. Over the past four years, the Bulldogs have been the tenth-best recruiting program in the SEC (as measured by national class ranking and average recruit rating). This is, frankly, not one of the most-talented rosters in the SEC.
There are a slew of SEC programs who attract more top-end talent in a single year than Mississippi State has attracted over the past four seasons. On 13 occasions over the past four years, SEC teams have signed two or more 5-star athletes in a single class (see list below). Again, Mississippi State has signed just one such prospect (TOTAL!) over the past four years.
- Georgia signed 7 in 2018
- Alabama signed 2 in 2018
- Alabama signed 6 in 2017
- Georgia signed 3 in 2017
- Alabama signed 3 in 2016
- Georgia signed 3 in 2016
- Ole Miss signed 3 in 2016
- LSU signed 2 in 2016
- Alabama signed 6 in 2015
- Texas A&M signed 3 in 2015
- Florida signed 2 in 2015
- Georgia signed 2 in 2015
- LSU signed 2 in 2015
Further, over the past four classes, Mississippi State has signed a total of just 20 5- and 4-star prospects combined. Georgia bested that number with 22 in 2018 alone. Alabama beat it with 24 in the 2017 class and Georgia matched it in 2017. Bama and Auburn both hauled in 20 4- or 5-star recruits in 2015.
Mississippi State is not one of the most talented programs in the SEC. The Bulldogs trail Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Auburn, Tennessee, Florida, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and South Carolina on a pure talent basis. Interestingly enough, the Bulldogs went just 2-4 against those teams last season (with wins over LSU and Texas A&M).
It’s possible that Mississippi State’s fortunes will change with a new head coach. But it’s worth pointing out that former coach Dan Mullen wasn’t forced out or run-off. He left for what most would consider a better job (fittingly at an SEC school with more talent than Mississippi State). Joe Moorhead may be an immediate improvement over Dan Mullen, but that doesn’t seem like a foregone conclusion. Again, Mullen was hired away by a better program and these things take time.
As for the specific components mentioned by the USA Today preview, Nick Fitzgerald isn’t exactly a giant slayer. Last year, against LSU, Georgia, Auburn, Texas A&M and Alabama he completed 51.5% of his passes for 5.5 yards per attempt and 144 passing yards per contest while throwing five TDs and 5 INTs. He rushed for an additional 362 yards at a clip of 4.7 yards per carry. But SEC defenses aren’t going to lose all that much sleep over a starting QB who will account for just 216 yards of offense per contest against more talented teams. [Note: Games selected were all games against more talented opposition per the list above with the exception of Ole Miss. Fitzgerald was 1 of 5 passing for 12 yards and an INT and ran 3 times for 16 yards before being injured in that game.]
As for Simmons, he’s an animal. But SEC teams have had success against the Bulldogs despite his presence.
That’s all I got/