Good news, college football fans: We’re officially less than 100 days away from the first Saturday of the season.
To mark the occasion, we on the SEC blog will take a look at where all the conference teams stand right now.
Up next is Mississippi State.
What we learned on offense: If it wasn’t abundantly clear that we’ve entered the post-Dak Prescott era at Mississippi State before, then go find a replay of the Bulldogs’ spring game. All over the field there’s change. For one, there were four quarterbacks vying to replace Prescott under center. And while Nick Fitzgerald is still the favorite to start, he’s very much in competition with Damian Williams, Elijah Staley and Nick Tiano. Secondly, who is catching passes these days is different, too, with De’Runnya Wilson and Fred Brown gone and Fred Ross and Donald Gray coming off of injuries. Coupled with a few new starters on the offensive line and a new starting tight end, coach Dan Mullen is essentially rebuilding the offense from the ground up.
What we learned on defense: Three years, three defensive coordinators. While Mullen insists that the scheme on defense won’t change as long as he’s at the helm, the lack of consistency in who is calling plays is troubling. First it was Geoff Collins, then Manny Diaz and now Peter Sirmon. What’s more, Sirmon is working with a completely new staff on defense, from position coaches to graduate assistants. The good news is that despite the change in leadership, the roster remains in good shape with Richie Brown back at linebacker, A.J. Jefferson coming into his own at defensive end and a slew of talented players in the secondary, from Brandon Bryant to Jamal Peters.
Breakout player: With Jefferson and defensive tackle Nick James back, there’s a good nucleus to work with on the defensive line. The question is who will make plays when the offensive line focuses on those two veterans. And so far the answer seems to be Johnathan Calvin. The 6-foot-3, 263-pound senior was a three-star defensive end coming out of junior college a year ago and wound up with only 1.5 sacks last season. But the light seems to have turned on for him now after a four-sack performance in the Bulldogs’ spring game. While State’s offensive line is certainly a work in progress, it was hard to ignore how Calvin had his way with them, speed-rushing one minute before bull-rushing the next.
Key storyline: Get ready to see the term “post-Dak Prescott era” a lot this year. You’ve already read it once in this story, and it’s not going away. And it’s not just because Prescott was a once-in-a-generation talent, which he was. The fact that he’s moved on only amplifies a program that’s in transition everywhere you look. After three years of stability, it’s time to rebuild the offense, reimagine the defense and redefine expectations. While Mississippi State isn’t going to crater all of the sudden, it’s fair to ask how Mullen will put the pieces back together and how long it will take to do so.