It's no big secret that the last few weeks of Mississippi State's regular season were kind of touch-and-go. The Bulldogs were battling roster number issues as a result of COVID-19-related matters, injuries and other happenings. Oftentimes, MSU played games below the 53-man threshold the Southeastern Conference set before the season as the line where games could be postponed or cancelled.
It's unknown exactly what State's numbers are headed into the team's Armed Forces Bowl showdown against No. 22 Tulsa on Thursday. What is known though is that, according to MSU head coach Mike Leach, the Bulldogs are in as good of shape as they've been in some time.
"Yes, we are (closer to full strength)," Leach said on Sunday evening. "More than we’ve been. At least as of today, probably more than we’ve been in a month and a half."
Multiple SEC teams have faced numbers issues this bowl season because of coronavirus circumstances. South Carolina, Tennessee and Missouri all were set to play in bowl games, but have had to back out.
And while MSU is all systems go preparing for Tulsa, it does bear noting that when it comes to COVID-19 and all that surrounds it, nothing is for certain. Things can change quickly based on test results.
"We’ve already tested once this week," Leach said. "We test again (Monday), and then I think there’s a third test. You know, it’s non-stop tests."
Still, so far, so good on the testing front for the Bulldogs with a little more than three days before the 11 a.m. central New Year's Eve kickoff.
Beyond coronavirus testing, there's also always the chance players could elect not to participate in bowl games and begin preparing for NFL careers. Arguably Tulsa's best player, linebacker Zaven Collins, has already announced he has backed out of the Armed Forces Bowl. Meanwhile it appears MSU is facing no such issue. A week ago, senior linebacker Erroll Thompson emphatically announced he was playing in the bowl game and Leach followed that up on Sunday with this:
"Looks like everybody’s playing that played the rest of the year," Leach said. "No additional guys that I’m aware of (are opting out of the bowl game), or at least not today. Everybody’s out there bouncing around (at practice)."
On the injury front, it's unclear where exactly the Bulldogs are. Leach keeps things close to the vest when it comes to those matters. But as a whole, it certainly looks like MSU is set to have plenty of manpower against Tulsa, especially compared to recent State games.
It gives the Bulldogs the chance to head into the Armed Forces Bowl and continue to add to the good vibes MSU started to build in late November and early December. State's improvement led up to a regular-season-closing 51-32 victory over Missouri. Now, the Bulldogs are gearing up to try and make it two wins in a row while building more momentum to carry into the offseason.
"Throughout the country, I think you saw a number of teams sort of give up the ghost and quit playing with some of the passion they did early in the season," Leach said. "I didn’t feel like that was the case for us."