Wednesday, August 21, 2019
Summer is coming to a close, and that means college football is right around the corner. The season will kick off during the Labor Day weekend, as everyone officially says hello to fall and welcomes back football.
That also means something else: It's time for the Jackson Free Press College Football Preview. This cover package has everything fans need to get ready for the start of the new season. This is a guide to get you up to speed on where teams might be heading this season. Sit back and enjoy the JFP 2019 College Football Preview and feel free to tell us what you think this season will bring your team. You can give us your prediction at @JFPSPORTS on Twitter.
Mississippi State University Bulldogs
Head coach: Joe Moorhead (46-18 overall, 8-5 entering second year at MSU, entering sixth season of coaching)
2018 record: 8-5 overall, 4-4 SEC
Radio: 105.9 FM
Stadium: Davis Wade Stadium
Head coach Joe Moorhead's first season at Mississippi State University felt like a letdown. The Bulldogs returned quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, albeit from injury, and one of the best defenses in the nation last season. MSU finished 8-5 overall and 4-4 in the Southeastern Conference, but it is easy to argue that the Bulldogs left a few wins on the field. Mississippi State started the season strong at 3-0, but there were glimpses of trouble ahead.
The Bulldogs offense struggled in the passing game, as Fitzgerald worked to get comfortable playing after injury. His wide receivers did little to help him, and his accuracy struggled at times. As a result, MSU's offense was one-dimensional.
This showed in the fourth game of the season when the University of Kentucky beat MSU 28-7 in a game that was closer than the final score. The Wildcats only led 14-7 after three quarters, but the Bulldogs managed just 201 yards of total offense.
The MSU offense struggled in the next game when the University of Florida held the Bulldogs to 202 yards of total offense. Florida's defense helped the Gators pull off the 13-6 upset.
MSU got back on track against Auburn University, winning a game that broke a losing streak. Fitzgerald tossed four interceptions in a 19-3 loss to Louisiana State University, in which the Tigers kicked five field goals and scored one touchdown.
Turnovers doomed the Bulldogs in the Outback Bowl, as the University of Iowa upset MSU 27-22. Except for the Alabama game, if MSU had played better offense or protected the ball better in the other four losses, this team could have won nine or 10 games easily. Instead, the Bulldogs finished with what could be considered a lackluster eight wins. It was still a successful season under a new head coach but disappointing with all the talent that returned last season.
The Bulldogs have some work to do in Starkville. Moorhead must find a replacement for Fitzgerald and rebuild one of the best defenses in the nation from last season. The head coach also has to continue to install his offense and figure out how to get more out of his passing game.
The good news is the offensive line returns three out of five starters, Greg Eiland, Steward Reese and Darryl Williams, and two of the top three running backs, Kylin Hill and Nick Gibson, and receiving leaders Stephen Guidry and Osirus Mitchell return. The linebackers return on defense, even if the secondary and down defensive linemen need some rebuilding. Overall, Moorhead has good depth on defense to rebuild, and he has options at quarterback to figure out who can help this team win.
Most of Bulldog nation will be waiting to find out who between returning Keytaon Thompson and graduate transfer Tommy Steven earns the starting quarterback jobs. It is a must for this team to get more out of the passing game but not forget about the running game, which got the team second place for the yards per game SEC statistic. MSU finished 13th in the conference last season in yards-per-game passing and 10th in total offense last season. Mastering the balancing act of getting more out of the pass and keeping the running game strong is what MSU is paying Moorhead well to accomplish.
Getting off to a fast start shouldn't be hard for the Bulldogs, with three of the first four games at home. The team should start 4-0, barring any major injuries on offense and defense. The lone non-home game is a neutral-site game against the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, but after that, the next four out of five are on the road.
Back-to-back road games against Auburn and the University of Tennessee sandwich a home game against LSU before back-to-back road games against Texas A&M and the University of Arkansas. The Bulldogs finish the season with three home games against Alabama, Abilene Christian University and the University of Mississippi. MSU should be able to win two out of the four road games, and depending on how well Texas A&M is playing, it could be three games. The Bulldogs should win seven or eight games with ease. A nine- or 10-win season is possible if MSU can pull an upset or two.
Aug. 31, Louisiana (neutral site); Sept. 7, USM; Sept. 14, Kansas State; Sept. 21, Kentucky, Sept. 28, Auburn; Oct. 12, Tennessee; Oct. 19, LSU; Oct. 26, Texas A&M; Nov. 2, Arkansas; Nov. 16, Alabama; Nov. 23, Abielene Christian; Nov. 26, Mississippi
University of Mississippi Rebels
Head coach: Matt Luke (11-13 overall, all at UM entering third season)
2018 record: 5-7 overall; 1-7 SEC
Radio: 97.3 FM
Stadium: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium
Things started well in 2018 for the University of Mississippi. The team opened with two straight wins as a high-powered offense carried the load. But there were reasons to be concerned about the defense, even in those blowout wins.
Alabama dispatched the Rebels in a 62-7 route, but the Crimson Tide did that to most teams last season. UM got back on track with a victory over Kent State University before losing to Louisiana State University. Mississippi went on a two-game winning streak, taking out the University of Louisiana-Monroe and getting the team's only SEC win of the season against the University of Arkansas. Then the wheels fell off. After starting 5-2, the Rebels lost to Auburn, South Carolina, Texas A&M University and Vanderbilt. The team still had a chance to finish at .500 with a win in the Egg Bowl; however, Mississippi State won.
No matter how you look at it, Matt Luke has done a masterful job at keeping this program afloat. The team could have gone in the tank completely, but the Rebels have mostly shown a fighting spirit. The coaches and players knew the team wouldn't be in a bowl game, but they played competitively on the field.
This season, there is a bowl game to play for at the end. While the Rebels still face some NCAA sanctions, they can start finding their way out of the wilderness. Luke can turn the program around quickly with a trip to a bowl game.
The Rebels will play a more run-based spread attack under new offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez, and he will turn the offense over to redshirt freshman Matt Corral. How quickly Rodriguez can get the new offense installed can help the young quarterback later in the season.
Wide receiver is where the Rebels lost a ton of production. Three of last year's receiving unit moved on to the NFL; however, there is some experience returning in Elijah Moore and Braylon Sanders. Both receivers will have to step up and carry more of the load.
Stopping the run will be the major goal this season, but UM has been terrible at that over last few seasons. That job will fall to Benito Jones and Josiah Coatney with linebacker Mohamed Sonogo helping out.
UM needs to get off to a fast start, and the team's schedule lines up for that. A trip to the University of Memphis opens the season in a winnable game. That sets up a major three-game home stand. The Rebels host Arkansas, Southeastern Louisiana University and the University of California. All three games could easily end up as wins. A 3-1 start would be perfect for the Rebels. After the Cal game is a trip to Alabama and most likely a loss. The Rebels return home to get a Vanderbilt team they can defeat, and if they get the start they need, they will be at four wins. Next comes a trip to the University of Missouri, a home game against Texas A&M and a road game at Auburn.
Seven wins would be the max for this squad. Two new coordinators, fixing the defense and retooling the offense is a big job and will cut back on victories. Six wins is attainable as long as the Rebels beat teams with lesser talent.
Aug. 31 @ Memphis; Sept. 7, Arkansas; Sept. 14, Southeastern Louisiana; Sept. 21, California; Sept. 28, Alabama; Oct. 5, Vanderbilt; Oct. 12 @ Missouri; Oct. 19, Texas A&M; Nov. 2, Auburn; Nov. 9, New Mexico State; Nov. 16, LSU; Nov. 28, Mississippi State
University of Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
Head coach: Jay Hopson (21-16 at USM, 53-33 overall, entering fourth season at USM, ninth overall)
2018 record: 6-5 overall, 5-3 C-USA
Radio: 105.1 FM
Stadium: M.M. Roberts Stadium
Just like the Bulldogs, the University of Southern Mississippi left at least three wins on the field last season. USM could have won nine games if things had gone differently in the three games it lost by a combined seven points.
Southern Miss started out with a win over Jackson State University before losing 21-20 to the University of Louisiana-Monroe. A contest against Appalachian State University ended up getting cancelled for a strange three-game start. USM beat Rice University losing 24-13 to Auburn. The Golden Eagles played the team's worst game in a 30-7 defeat to North Texas University. Southern Miss snapped the two-game losing streak against the University of Texas-San Antonio for a 27-17 win.
But USM couldn't muster a winning streak, dropping the next game 20-17 to the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. Southern Miss held off Marshall University 26-24 but followed it up with a 26-23 overtime loss to the University of Alabama Birmingham. The Golden Eagles did finish the season strong with wins over Louisiana Tech University and the University of Texas-El Paso. USM didn't earn a bowl bid.
The biggest area in need of a quick improvement is the offensive line. Southern Miss' lack of a running game and offensive struggles is a direct product of the offensive line. The good news and bad news, depending how you look at the situation, is that all five starters return this season.
USM returns six starters on defense but has plenty of depth to replace the players who are gone. The defense should be a strength for this team.
The Golden Eagles bring in a new offensive coordinator in Buster Faulkner this year. He will have plenty of weapons for his offensive scheme. This main concern will be getting the offensive line to improve, and that should help the win total.
While the defense loses some production from last season, it returns more than enough talent to be near the top of Conference USA in defense. An improved offense would help take the pressure off the defense, but this unit can still win games for the team.
It would not be a shock for USM to start the season 1-4. The Golden Eagles open at home against Alcorn State University before three straight road games.
USM starts the trip at Mississippi State in a game that could be close, but the Bulldogs should win. Southern Miss next faces a strong Troy University squad in a game that is winnable for the Golden Eagles but feels like a coin-flip on who wins. The road trip ends against Alabama. A USM win over the Crimson Tide would be the biggest upset in recent college football history.
Barring injuries, USM could finish the season with a good schedule in C-USA. A home game against UTEP is winnable. Southern Miss gets division rival North Texas at home in another game that could be a coin flip. A two-game road trip against Louisiana Tech and Rice University means two winnable games.
Anything less than seven wins would be a disappointment. A few breaks and an eight- or nine-win season is possible. That would mean little drop-off on defense, an improvement on offense and not losing games this team should win, like in seasons past.
Aug. 31, Alcorn State; Sept. 7 @ MSU; Sept. 14 @ Troy; Sept. 21 @ Alabama; Sept 28, UTEP; Oct. 12, North Texas; Oct. 19 @ Louisiana Tech; Oct. 26 @ Rice; Nov. 9, UAB; Nov. 16, UTSA; Nov. 23, Western Kentucky; Nov. 30, Florida Atlantic
Jackson State University Tigers
Head coach: John Hendrick (20-26 overall; 2-1 at JSU as interim coach enter first full year)
2018 record: 5-5 overall; 4-3 SWAC
Radio: 95.5 FM
Stadium: Veterans Memorial Stadium
To say the 2018 JSU football season was up and down would be putting it mildly. JSU opened the season with a beating from Southern Miss, but there is no shame in that loss. The Tigers' next game against Tennessee State University was cancelled. JSU then finally got the first win of the season against Florida A&M University in an 18-16 nailbiter. The team followed it up with a 21-16 loss to Alabama A&M University. After that game, offensive coordinator Hal Mumme resigned. The program brought him in to jumpstart the Tigers offense, but in three games, the team averaged just 13.7 points.
After a loss to Southern later in the season, JSU let go then-Head Coach Tony Hughes and made John Hendrick the interim head coach. He got off to a strong start with a 34-28 win over Prairie View A&M University and then a 20-2 win over Alabama State.
Last year, JSU boasted one of the best defenses in the SWAC, but the offense was one of the worst in the conference.
Keeping the defense sharp and getting more out of the offense will go along way to helping this team win more games.
There is plenty of experience on the offense returning this season. Now the coaching staff has to figure out how to put the pieces in place together to deliver some wins. The defense will have to be retooled, but there is plenty of talent to work with on that side of the ball. If this unit doesn't slip much from last season, JSU will have a chance in most every game.
Hendrick won't lack for options at quarterback. Derrick Ponder returns along with Jack Stouse. He will also get a look at transferring quarterbacks Matt Little and Jalon Jones. Both top running backs return this season. Leading rushers Jordan Johnson and Keyshawn Harper need to help get the running game going after finishing seventh in the conference last season.
Defense should be this team's calling card early if the offense doesn't get going quickly. If both the offense and defense comes out on fire, this team could battle Alcorn State for the division title.
The season starts with a neutral site game in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference/SWAC Challenge against Bethune-Cookman University. Jackson State should have a great chance at two wins in its first two home games against Grambling State University and Alabama State.
A road game against Prairie View will be a tough one to win. JSU will also have a hard time with three top SWAC teams: Alabama A&M, Southern and Alcorn State.
There is a great chance for JSU to finish the season at 6-6. If the Tigers offense improves, and the defense doesn't slip much, there could be a seven- or eight-win season in store for the Tigers.
One thing is for sure, JSU fans want to see this team compete for SWAC titles again. A poor showing could start rumblings from a frustrated fan base.
Sept. 1, Bethune-Cookman (neutral site); Sept. 7 @ South Alabama; Sept. 21, Tennessee State (neutral site); Sept. 28, Kentucky State (neutral site); Oct. 5, Grambling State; Oct. 12, Alabama State; Oct. 19 @ Mississippi Valley State; Oct. 24 @ Prairie View; Nov. 2, Arkansas-Pine Bluff; Nov. 9 @ Alabama A&M; Nov. 16 @ Southern; Nov. 23, Alcorn State