Mississippi State had an up-and-down season last year that saw the Bulldogs finish out with an overall record of 4-7 (regular season and postseason combined).
Every team faced a great deal of adversity last year, but MSU suffered more than most programs under the circumstances. The team was implementing a new scheme under new coaches, essentially over Zoom in the midst of a COVID offseason.
Outside of this unconventional method of learning concepts, the Bulldogs were also one of the youngest teams in the Southeastern Conference -- and they still are.
When asked on SEC Media Days if there was a "smoking gun to last year's struggles," Leach didn't pin down anything specific.
"As far as a smoking gun, you're always trying to improve,' he said. "One way to improve, at least in our case, is to get older. Rather than be one of the youngest teams in the BCS, I think the youngest, get older. But I was very proud of our team and the way they competed and improved as the season went on."
In 2020, Mississippi State had 26 players start the first game of their career. Some of those players are no longer with the program, while the majority will return to continue improvement in the 2021 season.
Here's a look at each of those players, and their final stat line for the 2020 season.
* - represents player no longer at MSU
1. LB Aaron Brule
76 total tackles (30 solo), four sacks, three passes defended, one fumble recovery.
2. S Londyn Craft
57 total tackles (30 solo), one pass defense, one fumble recovery.
3. OL Charles Cross
4. WR Brad Cumbest
Two receptions, 12 yards, one touchdown.
5. OL Brandon Cunningham*
6. S Collin Duncan
46 total tackles (20 solo), four passes defended, two interceptions, one forced fumble.
7. CB Emmanuel Forbes
44 total tackles (23 solo), six passes defended, five interceptions, three touchdowns.
8. CB Esaias Furdge
14 total tackles (11 solo), one fumble recovery, one interception.
9. WR Lideatrick Griffin
10 receptions, 61 yards, one touchdown.
10. S Landon Guidry
12 total tackles (eight solo).
11. WR Malik Heath
37 receptions, 307 yards, three touchdowns.
12. OL James Jackson*
13. S Jay Jimison
Five total tackles (two solo), two passes defensed.
14. RB Dillon Johnson
51 carries, 225 yards, four rushing touchdowns. 36 receptions, 157 receiving yards.
15. OL Kwatrivous Johnson
16. OL Kameron Jones
17. RB Jo’quavious Marks
70 carries, 312 rushing yards, three touchdowns. 60 receptions, 268 receiving yards.
18. DE Aaron Odom
18 total tackles (eight solo), two sacks, one pass defended.
19. S Fred Peters
20 total tackles (10 solo), one pass defended, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery.
20. QB Will Rogers
239-of-346 passing (69.1%), 1,976 passing yards, 11 passing touchdowns, seven interceptions. One rushing touchdown.
21. WR Tyrell Shavers*
Nine receptions, 107 yards, one touchdown.
22. OL Cole Smith
23. WR Jaden Walley
52 receptions, 718 yards, two touchdowns.
24. LB Nathaniel Watson
39 total tackles (15 solo), one pass defensed.
25. LB Tyrus Wheat
30 total tackles (12 solo), five sacks, two passes defended, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, one interception.
26. RB Lee Witherspoon*
Six carries, 35 yards. Nine receptions, 49 yards.