Today, May 22, we find ourselves exactly 100 days away from kickoff of Mississippi State’s 2014 football season. It would be a bit much to list a highlight for each of those days, but we’ve compiled a list of 10 storylines to watch as we countdown to August 30th and the opening of the expanded Davis Wade Stadium.
He comes through in the clutch, he’s on Heisman watch lists and he can score touchdowns by passing, rushing or receiving. Dak Prescott is Batman without the mask, the hero Starkville wants, loves and knows personally, thanks to the way he wears his emotions on the sleeve surrounding his magically-healed arm.
The perfect Dan Mullen quarterback, Prescott enters his first year as the starter and the face of a team many are picking to make a jump in the SEC West. Stories will be written about him every day and eyes will follow him every weekend as he leads the Bulldogs in 2014. There are several recognized stars on this team and Prescott is the smiling face on the center of the poster.
2. Sellout streak
Davis Wade Stadium is sitting on 30-consecutive sellouts, an impressive streak beginning in Dan Mullen’s first year on campus. In 2014, DWS will be about 6,000 seats bigger. Will the streak continue?
Between records at Dudy Noble, the Hoover Met, TD Ameritrade and MSU’s softball stadium, as well as massive crowds in Jacksonville, Nashville and Memphis, State fans have spent the last five years proving to anyone who will notice that they show up in droves to support their teams, whether at home or on the road. Mullen spent much of the offseason challenging fans to continue that tradition.
“We went to four-straight bowl games and the expectations were raised,” Mullen said. “You sold out 30 games, so we expanded the stadium. The expectations are raised for you, too.”
3. 19 of 22 back on defensive two deep
You’ve seen this stat a lot if you followed MSU football much in the offseason, but it’s worth noting often. Defensive coordinator Geoff Collins is back and so is the overwhelming majority of his defense, which many are projecting to be among the best in the SEC. In a tough, physical conference such as this one, Mullen has always pointed out the need to have a defense which is two or three deep, and this spring MSU stopped referring to its units as first team and second team. Instead, it’s first team A and first team B. There are 22 starters in Collins’ juiced unit and mayhem is the goal.
4. What are the expectations, and can MSU handle them?
Some will project MSU as bottom of the West, while others will say they’re a dark horse to win it. Regardless of what those on the outside say, the expectation within the locker room is to win the division, and that comes from the [dark] horse’s mouth.
Whatever spot they get picked preseason, the Bulldogs will have more attention than ever from both local and national media. Guys work their entire lives to get in the spotlight, but then you have to handle it right when you get there, and the work to stay in the spotlight is greater than what it took to earn that spot in the first place.
5. Chris Jones (who?) Chris Jones
“Sleeping giant” might not be the right description for him, because Chris Jones certainly wasn’t asleep last year, but it seems the potential of MSU’s star defensive lineman is the proverbial tip of the iceberg. We’ve been barely seen what the nimble mammoth can do and he’ll enter 2014 with an actual offseason of training, a regular season of experience and every opposing coach planning for him.
6. 100 years of Scott Field, with expanded Davis Wade
As we sit 100 days away from kickoff, this will also be 100 years since play on Scott Field first began. From 1914 to 2014, some of college football’s biggest stars, greatest coaches and most recognized voices have journeyed to Scott Field, whether as a visitor or a member of the home team. The very first Bully was led by military processional and buried underneath Scott Field, an appropriate tribute to the school’s first-ever mascot.
Surrounding Scott Field, Davis Wade Stadium will look far different than ever before as the north end zone expansion will be complete, with the addition of a second humongous video board and over 6,000 seats.
7. Benardrick McKinney
MSU has as many as recognizable stars as they’ve had in years and the man at the middle of State’s defense is chief among them. Some thought he could have been a top-round pick in THIS year’s NFL Draft, had he declared, but Benardrick McKinney is back for his redshirt junior year and he might be the best linebacker in the country, not just the SEC.
Already a central figure in Collins’ defense, Mckinney has the pieces around him to open the field for a huge year. Sacks, tackles, interceptions and forced fumbles – he ought to rack up award-winning numbers in 2014.
8. How does offensive line shakeout?
O-line coach John Hevesy has the biggest hole to fill of any on the staff, both literally and metaphorically, as All-American left guard and four-year starter Gabe Jackson is off to the NFL. Hevesy has three very experienced starters returning on the line, however, and Justin Malone could count as a fourth as he comes back from an injury suffered in the season-opener last year. If MSU can fill the graduation-created holes at left guard and right tackle (and they seem confident they can), the Bulldogs are in for a big season on offense.
9. Jameon Lewis top returning receiver in SEC
The best returning receiver in the conference this year? One could easily make the case for Jameon Lewis, the do-everything senior for MSU. He’s got more yards than any others back in 2014 and he’s one of the very few players in the country to have scored career touchdowns rushing, receiving, passing and returning. In fact, twice in 2014 he scored three different ways in the same game.
Lewis and Prescott showed immediate rapport in 2013 and everything indicates that will continue in 2014.
10. Mullen as 100 percent offensive coordinator
Let the record show, Dan Mullen has always been the guy in charge of the offense. But this year it goes to another level. After Les Koenning left for Texas, Mullen hired a quarterbacks coach, but not an offensive coordinator. He himself is the coordinator now. The offense runs through Mullen – playcalling, pace, formations, the works. He’s got the personnel he wants and he’s going to run the offense he wants.
Based on his history as an offensive coordinator – particularly with a dual-threat quarterback – that ought to be a good thing for the Bulldogs.