Sure, it’s July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our annual countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s eventual CFP semifinalists were ranked Nos. 1, 5, 8 and 14 on our 2017 list.
Our Top 25 — so far:
Today’s team: No. 17 Mississippi State
The Bulldogs’ best-case scenario: The Bulldogs take to their new leadership and surprise the SEC with a strong run and nine or 10 wins. Even the best of seasons won’t compete with Alabama and Georgia, but it would help ease the loss of head coach Dan Mullen, who’s now at Florida.
Their worst-case scenario: The wheels fall off under new coach Joe Moorhead, who isn’t used to the competition level on the field and in the coaching booth that’s present in the SEC. Missing a bowl game would derail the momentum built under Mullen.
Inside the Bulldogs
Coach: Joe Moorhead (first year; 38-13 overall at Fordham)
2017: 9-4, 4-4 in the SEC (beat Louisville 31-27 in the TaxSlayer Bowl)
Returning starters: 8 offense, 7 defense
Goodbye: HC Dan Mullen (Florida); OT Martinas Rankin (3rd, Texans); TE Jordan Thomas (6th, Texans)
Spring cleaning: The biggest loss for the Mississippi State program since Dak Prescott left for the NFL happened when Mullen left for Florida. He quietly built a consistent program within a tough division of the best conference in the country. How can Mississippi State remain relevant without its leader in a conference featuring Alabama, LSU, Georgia and now a Florida program led by Mullen himself?
PASSING: Nick Fitzgerald, 159-286-1,782, 15/11 (1st); Keytaon Thompson, 32-66-388, 2/2 (2nd)
RUSHING: Aeris Williams, 236-1,107-6 (1st); QB Nick Fitzgerald, 162-984-14 (2nd); QB Keytaon Thompson, 75-446-6 (3rd)
RECEIVING: Jesse Jackson, 27-276-0 (1st); Deddrick Thomas, 22-227-4 (4th)
TACKLES: S Mark McLaurin, 79 (1st); S Johnathan Abram, 71 (2nd); DT Jeffery Simmons, 60 (4th)
SACKS: DE Montez Sweat, 10.5 (1st); DT Jeffery Simmons, 5 (T-2nd); DE Gerri Green, 5 (T-2nd)
INTERCEPTIONS: S Mark McLaurin, 6 (1st)
Returning All-SEC players (2)
Defense: DE Montez Sweat (1st); DT Jeffery Simmons (1st)
A new regime: Mullen led Mississippi State for nine years. Now it’s time for Moorhead, the former offensive coordinator at Penn State, to continue that momentum with a squad full of experience, including quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. Moorhead gets an early chance to prove himself with an out-of-conference contest at Kansas State in the second game.
Focusing on Fitzgerald: Fitzgerald suffered a major leg injury in the regular season-ending loss to Ole Miss. He had thrown for more than 1,500 yards and accounted for 29 total touchdowns before the injury. It’s never easy for a new coach to put a stamp on his first year at a school, but having a senior at quarterback with the experience and respect of his teammates should help Moorhead build some early consistency on offense.
3. Moorhead is known as an offensive guru who excels at play-calling. He’ll rely on Fitzgerald to lead the offense and on new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop to mastermind a talented and experenced defense. The Bulldogs ranked 10th in the country in yards allowed per game and return starters on all three levels of the defense, including two all-conference first-teamers on the defensive line in Sweat and Simmons.
2017 national rankings
Scoring: 41st (32.0 ppg) — right above No. 42 Arizona State, right behind No. 40 North Carolina State
Points allowed: T-26th (20.9 ppg) — tied with Iowa State, right behind No. 25 South Carolina
Passing: 112th (166.9 ypg) — right above No. 113 Boston College, right behind No. 111 Old Dominion
Rushing: 11th (251.7 ypg) — right above No. 12 Oregon, right behind No. 10 San Diego State
Total offense: T-46th (418.6 ypg) — tied with Troy, right behind No. 45 TCU
Total defense: 10th (306.3 ypg) — right above No. 11 San Diego State, right behind No. 9 Ohio State
|DATE||OPPONENT||LAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)|
|Sept. 1 (6:30, ESPNU)||Stephen F. Austin|
|Sept. 8 (11, ESPN)||at Kansas State|
|Sept. 15 (6:30, SECN)||Louisiana-Lafayette|
|Sept. 22||at Kentucky*||W, 45-7|
|Oct. 6||Auburn*||L, 49-10|
|Oct. 20||at LSU*||W, 37-7|
|Oct. 27||Texas A&M*||W, 35-14|
|Nov. 3||Louisiana Tech||W, 57-21|
|Nov. 10||at Alabama*||L, 31-24|
|Nov. 17||Arkansas*||W, 28-21|
|Nov. 22 (6:30, ESPN)||at Ole Miss*||L, 31-28|
The key game: Oct. 6, Auburn. This game, played one week after Mississippi State hosts Florida, will help define the season. A win keeps the Bulldogs’ SEC West hopes alive. A loss could mean a struggle to reach a bowl game with LSU, Texas A&M and Alabama still on the schedule.
The last 5 years
|YEAR||W-L (CONF.)||RANKINGS||BOWL, RESULT|
|2013||7-6 (3-5)||— / —||Liberty, W|
|2014||9-4 (6-2)||— / 7th||Orange, L|
|2015||9-4 (4-4)||— / —||Belk, W|
|2016||6-7 (3-5)||— / —||St. Petersburg, W|
|2017||9-4 (4-4)||— / 19th||TaxSlayer, W|
|Total||40-25 (20-20 SEC)||4-1 in bowls|
Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final rankings.
Our Top 25, by conferences
SEC — No. 17 Mississippi State, No. 24 LSU
Big 12 — No. 19 West Virginia, No. 25 Texas
Pac-12 — No. 20 USC, No. 23 Oregon
Mountain West — No. 18 Boise State
ACC — No. 21 Florida State
AAC — No. 22 Central Florida
Coming tomorrow: Our No. 16 team
Want a hint?
This school has played in 25 straight bowl games, the nation’s longest active streak. It all started with a 1993 Independence Bowl win over Indiana.