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Predicting the 2023 SEC Football Season: Mississippi State

A lot of uncertainty in Starkville following the passing of Mike Leach.

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Alabama
Alabama’s Kool-Aid McKinstry had four pass break ups a season ago versus MSU.
Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

Number three in our series of wild blind dart-throwing predictions takes us to Missy State.


Coach: Zach Arnett, age 36 (1-0, Bowl win over Illinois)

2022 MSU record: 9-4, (4-4 in SEC, T-3rd in the West Division)

CB969 2022 Prediction: 6-6; “The Bullies will probably shock a team or two but also lose some they have no business losing. Guessing which ones is a challenge. Regardless, expect them in the middle to lower of the SEC pack and a tier 3 bowl game...”

Looking back: Mike Leach’s sudden and shocking death this past December really is a shame for the MSU program. It seemed last season they had just hit their stride - despite doubters like me (see above). They kicked off the season with big wins over Memphis and Arizona. A loss in Baton Rouge was no surprise but then they reeled off three straight against Bowling Green, TAMU, and Arky. Finding themselves ranked #16, perhaps they were looking ahead to Bama when they lost an ugly game at Kentucky. That of course was followed by yet another defeat to the Crimson Tide. Beat Auburn, lose to UGA, then a cupcake W, followed by another wacky Egg Bowl win got them to eight wins. Then tragedy struck with the passing of their head coach. Arnett was elevated to the post of Interim Head Coach and a spirited Bullies team beat Illinois in a second tier bowl game. Somewhere, Bear Bryant must be smiling.

Returning starters: 7 on offense, 4 on defense, no kickers

Key losses: Leach, CB Emmanuel Forbes (1st round, Washington), DT Cameron Young (4th Rounds, Seahawks), leading receiver Rara Thomas (transfer to UGA), RB Dillon Johnson (to Washington), 2nd leading receiver Rufus Harvey (transfer portal), WR Caleb Ducking, LB Tyrus Wheat, DL Randy Charlton, DB Collin Duncan, two starting kickers, two starting punters.

Top returnees: QB Will Rogers, LB Nathaniel Watson (Butkus, Nagurski, Bednarik Award watch lists), RB Jo’Quavious Marks, WR/KR Lideatrick “Tulu” Griffin, WR Jaden Walley, WR Justin Robinson, LB/leading tackler Jett Johnson, C Cole Smith, DT Jaden Crumedy, DB Marcus Banks (formerly of Alabama).

Top newcomers: Arnett, new offensive coordinator Kevin Barbay (App State), promoted defensive coordinator Matt Brock (LBs), TE Geor’quarius Spivey (former MSU player went to TCU now back at MSU), WR Creed Whittemore (FR - Gainesville, FL), DB Isaac Smith (FR - Fulton, MS), DB Ja’Kobi Albert (transfer from Kentucky)

Name you need to know: Senior QB Will Rogers has already eclipsed Dak Prescott in school passing yards with an eye-popping 10,689 over three seasons. He also completes 70.7% of his attempts (easily a school record), and holds another record in career touchdowns with 82. Dak had 9,376 yards, 62.8% and 70 TDs through the air. However, Rogers has attempted almost 500 more passes and has 24 INT’s (23 for DP). He also is not much of a runner (-165 rush yards in 2022, -303 in career).

Strengths: QB1... Returning four of five OL, coached by the well-seasoned Will Friend (former two-time All-SEC Bama OL)... Linebackers... Many junior, senior, and super-senior starters...

Weaknesses: Inexperienced coaching staffs: first time head coach and DC; first time OC at a Power-5... Many new starters on defense... Questionable secondary... Auditioning new kickers and punters... Playing in the SEC West...

Outlook: On paper, Missy State looks like a strong team. But what former DC Arnett does with the team is a BIG question mark. Will he carry on the Air Raid offense that Mike Leach took just three seasons to perfect in Starkville? My suspicions are pass-happy but a little more balanced. MSU has many many upperclassmen in the two-deep (cuz nobody ever goes pro early, PAAAWWWLLL!!!). They will be a motivated bunch, playing in memory of Leach. But how long can that last? They’ll get to a bowl but just barely.

Win Total Odds*

Over 6.5 +145 (bet $100 to win $145)
Under 6.5 -165 (bet $165 to win $100)

* Source: DraftKings


Sat, Sep 2 vs SE Louisiana - W
Sat, Sep 9 vs Arizona - W
Sat, Sep 16 vs LSU - L
Sat, Sep 23 @ South Carolina - W - Pick ‘em but SC always seems to take awhile to get going.
Sat, Sep 30 vs Alabama - L
Sat, Oct 7 vs Western Michigan - W
Sat, Oct 21 @ Arkansas - W - This could be a toss up but Arky kinda sucks this year.
Sat, Oct 28 @ Auburn - L - road.
Sat, Nov 4 vs Kentucky - W - Revenge!
Sat, Nov 11 @ Texas A&M - L
Sat, Nov 18 vs Southern Miss - W
Thu, Nov 23 vs Ole Miss - L - This annual wackiness is always a toss up, but OM might be too good.


Regular season wins by Clang-clang:

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    10 or more (blink four times if you are under duress)
    (3 votes)
  • 8%
    9 - Catch Zach Fever!
    (24 votes)
  • 22%
    (64 votes)
  • 37%
    (107 votes)
  • 16%
    (47 votes)
  • 13%
    5 or less - Arnett was a lazy hire
    (38 votes)
283 votes total Vote Now


Sat, Sep 2 vs Middle Tennessee
Sat, Sep 9 vs Texas
Sat, Sep 16 @ South Florida
Sat, Sep 23 vs Ole Miss
Sat, Sep 30 @ Mississippi State
Sat, Oct 7 @ Texas A&M
Sat, Oct 14 vs Arkansas
Sat, Oct 21 vs Tennessee
Sat, Oct 28 off week
Sat, Nov 4 vs LSU
Sat, Nov 11 @ Kentucky
Sat, Nov 18 vs Chattanooga
Sat, Nov 25 @ Auburn