Our college football 2019 season preview issue is here, which means we're checking in with all 25 teams from SI's official preseason Top 25 ranking. What do you need to know about each of this year's top contenders, from top-ranked Alabama down to Stanford? We'll be rolling out scouting reports for each team over the next two weeks, all of which are being collected here. Next up, it's No. 20 Mississippi State.
THE BIG STORY
Expectations were high last year with the arrival of offensive guru Joe Moorhead from Penn State, but the story in Starkville was the defense, which ranked first in the nation in yards-per-play allowed. The Bulldogs' offense (which was 11th in scoring in the SEC last year) must catch up to the D if they want to stay competitive in the SEC East, and they'll have to do it with a new QB. Keytaon Thompson was the favorite to replace Nick Fitzgerald, but that was before Penn State graduate transfer Tommy Stevens arrived.
The Bulldogs will lean heavily on their ground game, and junior running back Kylin Hill has it all: speed, power, explosiveness. He showcased his skills only in spurts after a hamstring injury last season. Now healthy, the 5'11", 215-pounder can finally showcase the talent that made him a top 15 running back in the 2017 recruiting cycle.
Will the biggest strength of last year's defense become the biggest concern of this year's? The D-line lost NFL draft first-rounders Montez Sweat and Jeffrey Simmons. Senior defensive end Chauncey Rivers showed promise as a backup and will start alongside a pair of redshirt freshmen.
Under Fitzgerald, the 2018 Mississippi State offense mostly sputtered in Moorhead’s more pass-centric scheme. In half of their SEC games, the Bulldogs didn't break 10 points, scoring zero, three, six and seven points against Alabama, LSU, Florida and Kentucky, wasting impressive efforts from the defense. Thompson is a talented runner who's averaged 6.8 yards a carry behind center, but Stevens figures to be the answer at QB. The 6'5", 240-pound senior has big upside as a dual threat and played in 20 games in State College. He has experience in Moorhead's system, which should pay dividends this fall.
OVER OR UNDER?
Under 8.5 wins. The Bulldogs have a rough midseason five-game stretch, but three of their tough opponents—Kentucky, LSU and Alabama—come to Davis Wade Stadium.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Bulldogs took a step back in Moorhead's first season, but an elite defense means they could be a sleeper in the SEC if the offense comes together under a new quarterback.