Mississippi State rolls into Death Valley as 14-point underdogs according to the wise men in the desert, but I’m picking them to beat the LSU Tigers on Saturday. This would obviously not be the first time LSU has been upset this year as they have already been beaten by the Wisconsin Badgers in Week 1. LSU was a popular playoff pick by many analysts, and could be totally eliminated from that conversation with a loss to the Bulldogs in the Tigers’ first conference game.
I believe Mississippi State is one of the most underrated programs in college football. Dan Mullen has had a very successful tenure, but he must now face the week-to-week challenges of the SEC without his beloved Dak Prescott. They did suffer an embarrassing loss to South Alabama in Week 1, but that game was simply a case of the ‘Dogs falling asleep on a 17-0 halftime lead. Week 1 always offers some puzzling results that usually aren’t accurate evaluations of either team. For example, Washington State began the 2015 season with a loss to an FCS team in Portland State, but then won 9 out of their last 12 games including wins over Oregon and UCLA. I think Mississippi State’s season will follow a similar trajectory following a disappointing Week 1 loss.
The Bulldogs rebounded in Week 2 with a 27-14 win over South Carolina, and the game wasn’t as close as the score indicates. MSU jumped out to a 24-0 lead at halftime, and South Carolina scored their second Touchdown with only 2:37 left in the 4th Quarter and the game out of reach. Nick Fitzgerald finally settled Mississippi State’s Quarterback competition by racking up 195 yards on the ground with an additional 178 in the air against a solid Gamecock defense. The Bulldogs averaged 6.13 yards per play while the defense held South Carolina to 3.38 yards per play. The Bulldogs have outstanding depth at every position on the field, and have much more talent than most fans realize.
LSU has looked completely out of sorts on offense this season thanks to a problem that has plagued the Tigers for much of the past decade; poor Quarterback play. Many expected a step forward from Brandon Harris this season, instead he has been benched a game and a half into the 2016 season. His 131 yard 2 INT performance vs. Wisconsin likely cost them the game, and after a slow start against Jacksonville State in week 2, Les Miles decided to turn the game over to Purdue transfer Quarterback Danny Etling.
Etling has created a slight buzz in Baton Rouge, but his 42.9% completion percentage for 100 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT won’t inspire much confidence going into SEC play. Miles has named Etling the starter for this week’s matchup with Mississippi State. The Bulldogs’ talented Defensive Line will be foaming at the mouth given the opportunity to face a Quarterback in his first SEC start. Etling will benefit from having two extremely talented Wide Receivers in Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre running routes against a secondary that saw two projected starting Cornerbacks lost to preseason injuries. Dural and Dupre haven’t been very successful thus far in the 2016 season, but that is one area that makes me nervous when making this pick.
Tensions are high in Death Valley, and Les Miles might not leave with his job if this game ends in an upset loss. After both teams got off to shaky starts, look for Dan Mullen’s squad to turn their season around with a big win in Baton Rouge.