Coach: Dan Mullen (46-31 entering seventh season; 46-31 overall).
2014 results: 10-3 (6-2 in SEC, second in West Division)
Look back: Mississippi State reached the top spot in the polls and won 10 regular-season games for the first time in school history. Behind quarterback Dak Prescott, tailback Josh Robinson and linebacker Bernardrick McKinney, the Bulldogs routed Auburn 38-23 to move to 6-0 and opened the inaugural College Football Playoff rankings at No. 1.
But coach Dan Mullen’s team would limp to the finish. The Bulldogs followed their first loss — 25-20 on Nov. 15 to Alabama — with two more in the final three games. Mississippi State’s season ended with a 49-34 drubbing by Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
Offensive starters returning: 4
Offensive starters lost: 7
Defensive starters returning: 3
Defensive starters lost: 8
Key losses: RB Josh Robinson, LB Bernardrick McKinney, C Dillon Day, DL Preston Smith, K Evan Sobiesk
Top returnees: QB Dak Prescott, WR De’Runnya Wilson, DL Chris Jones, DE Ryan Brown, LB Beniquez Brown, CB Taveze Calhoun, LT Justin Senior
Strengths: The Bulldogs return just four starters on offense, but Prescott might give them a chance in any game. Expected to be a Heisman front-runner as a fifth-year senior, Prescott finished 2014 with 41 total touchdowns (27 passing, 14 rushing) and 4,435 total yards (3,449 passing, 986 rushing).
Expect Prescott and 6-foot-5, 225-pound De’Runnya Wilson to be one of the nation’s most dangerous combinations. Wilson had nine touchdowns on 47 catches last season.
Defensive tackle Chris Jones could be the team’s most talented defender. Linebacker Beniquez Brown is the brains of the defense and the team’s top returning tackler (62 stops in 2014).
Weaknesses: Robinson and McKinney left early for the NFL to leave Mullen without his two top playmakers outside of Prescott. Ashton Shumpert, who had 207 yards rushing in the final four games, is the leading candidate to replace Robinson but is no sure thing, either. Gerri Green, who at 6-foot-4 is rangy like McKinney, will step in for last year’s defensive leader.
But there is no bigger question entering summer practice in Starkville than the offensive line. The Bulldogs return two starters, including left tackle Justin Senior. But questions abound, especially at center after the departure of four-year starter Dillon Day.
On defense, the Bulldogs return just one starting linebacker and defensive back. Kicker also is a major question mark. Evan Sobiesk hit 12 of 14 field goals last season, and there is no viable option to replace him.
Outlook: A team that flirted with winning the SEC West and played in the Orange Bowl could end up last in the division by the end of 2015. The Bulldogs return the league’s top quarterback, but they bring back just six other starters.
Mullen has raised expectations in Starkville, but the season could go off the tracks early. The Bulldogs’ first three SEC games include a home game with LSU before visits to Auburn and Texas A&M in the first five weeks.
Sept. 5 at Southern Miss
Sept. 12 LSU
Sept. 19 Northwestern State
Sept. 26 at Auburn
Oct. 3 at Texas A&M
Oct. 10 Troy
Oct. 17 Louisiana Tech
Oct. 24 Kentucky
Nov. 5 at Missouri
Nov. 14 Alabama
Nov. 21 at Arkansas
Nov. 28 Ole Miss
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