Mississippi State feels confident about its ability to beat Southern Mississippi for a second straight season.
That's not surprising. After all, the Bulldogs crushed the Golden Eagles 49-0 in 2014.
But this matchup has an added degree of difficulty.
Southern Miss gets to host a Southeastern Conference opponent for the first time since 1989 when the Bulldogs come to town on Saturday. Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott - who enters the season as one of the leading Heisman Trophy candidates - expects a rowdy atmosphere that must be respected and neutralized quickly.
''Being the leader, being on the road in an in-state rivalry, we have to go and start off fast and slow the crowd down, quiet them a little bit and then make sure that we have the momentum to control the game from beginning to end,'' Prescott said.
Prescott will play his senior season behind an offensive line with three new starters, including left tackle Rufus Warren. The Bulldogs do have an experienced receiving corps led by junior De'Runnya Wilson.
Southern Miss enters the game a three-touchdown underdog after a 4-32 record over the past three seasons. Third-year coach Todd Monken led the Golden Eagles to a 3-9 record last season after a 1-11 mark in 2013.
Not surprisingly, Monken is concerned with stopping Prescott.
''What he does is he doesn't make mistakes, he is accurate and he can beat you with his feet or his arm,'' Monken said.
Some things to watch when Southern Miss hosts Mississippi State for the first time since 1989:
DAK PRESCOTT RETURNS: Senior quarterback Dak Prescott returns for his final season at Mississippi State. He enters the season as one of the nation's top Heisman Trophy candidates after a stellar junior season that helped propel the Bulldogs to a No. 1 ranking for five weeks. Prescott threw for 3,449 yards last year and 27 touchdowns while also running for 986 yards and 14 touchdowns.
MSU'S NEW OFFENSIVE LINE: Prescott is a known commodity, but the same can't be said about most of the offensive line. There are three new starters up front, including left tackle Rufus Warren, who is a converted tight end.
DEFENSIVE LEADERS: Mississippi State is looking for some new defensive leaders after the departure of linebacker Benardrick McKinney, who is now in the NFL. Some of the likely candidates for a breakout season are cornerback Will Redmond, linebacker Beniquez Brown and defensive lineman Chris Jones.
USM QUARTERBACK RACE: Junior quarterback Nick Mullens has started most of the past two seasons for Southern Mississippi, but he's been pushed by TCU transfer Tyler Matthews during preseason camp. There's a good chance both will see playing time against the Bulldogs.
KEEPING IT CLOSE: Southern Miss is a three-touchdown underdog in its first home game against a Southeastern Conference opponent since 1989. The reason is simple: The Golden Eagles have a 4-32 record over the past three seasons. Southern Miss coach Todd Monken says his team has much more talent than last season, when the Golden Eagles lost to Mississippi State 49-0 in Starkville.
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