Tide schedule preview: Mississippi State

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
9:30
AM ET
Editor's note: We’re taking steps to get you ready for every one of Alabama's regular-season opponents. Each Friday we'll go through a different week of the schedule, starting with the season-opener against West Virginia and closing with the finale against Auburn. Up this week: Nov. 15 vs. Mississippi State.

The rundown: Mississippi State
2013 overall record: 7-6
2013 SEC record: 3-5, fifth in the West Division
Record all time against Alabama: 17-78-3
Last meeting vs. Alabama: Lost 20-7 in 2013

Starters returning
Offense: 8; Defense: 8; Kicker/punter: 0

Top returners
QB Dak Prescott, WR Jameon Lewis, C Dillon Day, TE Malcolm Johnson, DL Chris Jones, LB Benardrick McKinney, CB Jamerson Love

Key losses
QB Tyler Russell, RB LaDarius Perkins, OL Gabe Jackson, P Baker Swedenburg, LB Deontae Skinner, S Nickoe Whitley

2013 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Dak Prescott* (829 yards)
Passing: Dak Prescott* (1,940 yards, 10 TD, 7 INT)
Receiving: Jameon Lewis* (923 yards)
Tackles: Benardrick McKinney* (71)
Sacks: Benardrick McKinney* (3.5)
Interceptions: Nickoe Whitley (5)

What they're saying:
“We ask, who can score? Dak [Prescott] can’t score. He can score inside the 5, but that means we have to get the ball all the way down inside the 5. But in the SEC, who can score? ... Who in the field can make you miss, take a 5-yard play and turn it into a 50-yard play? That’s important to us,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said.

Three things to watch:

1. Targeting playmakers: Go back and re-read the aforementioned quote from Mullen. Because, in a sense, it’s what’s been nagging his program for quite some time. Mullen has produced efficient offenses and good running games, but never has he truly featured playmakers on the outside. With all due respect to Chad Bumphis, he didn’t scare a defense. That’s what Mississippi State needs -- now. Prescott has the skills at quarterback, but he’ll need help. Lewis needs to make his senior year count and realize his big-play potential; De'Runnya Wilson has to take a step forward as a sophomore and be the over-the-top threat he can be at 6-foot-5; and a wild card like Brandon Holloway must be someone defenses have to keep track of, whether it’s at running back or receiver.

2. An underrated defense: If you don’t know the names of McKinney, Jones and Taveze Calhoun by now, you really should. The three get lost in the shuffle in Starkville, but they’re as talented a linebacker, defensive end and cornerback as you’ll find in this league. Coordinator Geoff Collins has quietly assembled an impressive defense that features depth at every position. McKinney is arguably the best linebacker in the SEC, and he has a solid sidekick in Beniquez Brown. The same goes for Calhoun, who along with Love gives Collins a solid one-two punch at corner. And Jones, who is one of the most promising defensive linemen in all of college football, doesn’t have to do it on his own either with veterans Kaleb Eulls and Preston Smith slated to start.

3. Schedule conundrum: Last year’s schedule really did Mississippi State in. The Bulldogs were young to start with, and then they had to face Oklahoma State and Auburn in the first three weeks of the season. Drawing South Carolina from the East was an even bigger helping of bad luck. But this season will be much different with nonconference cupcakes Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama and UT-Martin. And those dreaded East Division swing games? Lowly Kentucky and Vanderbilt. In fact, the pendulum has swung so far the other direction it’s fair to ask whether Mississippi State will have seen enough quality competition by the time it reaches the home stretch when it faces Alabama and Ole Miss in the final three weeks of the season.

Alex Scarborough | email

Alabama/SEC reporter

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