STARKVILLE — For better or worse, Mississippi State football is back.
The Bulldogs open fall camp Tuesday following Monday’s resumption of classes.
Heading into his first fall as the head coach in Starkville, Mike Leach has had few, if any, opportunities to see his squad play given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Despite that, the train rolls on toward a season as MSU is slated to kick off its 10-game slate six weeks from Saturday. Here are your rumblings from the week past:
How much of an impact, if any, does the new breakthroughs in saliva testing have on college football and at Mississippi State?
While football is on the horizon, we’ll start with an off-the-field question that may be the biggest determiner as to whether a season is actually played.
Saturday, the FDA announced approval for the SaliveDirect test by researchers at Yale in conjunction with the NBA that, according to former Obama-administration health executive Andy Slavitt, could save schools hundreds of thousands of dollars in the fight for fall sports.
As I reported a few weeks ago, Mississippi State and Ole Miss, among other schools, are looking at spending a combined $600,000 to test football players during game weeks alone with current testing methods running anywhere from $50 to $100. By contrast, the new tests developed at Yale should cost around $10 a pop. For those keeping track at home, that would save the Mississippi Southeastern Conference schools in the realm of $593,000.
“Wide-spread testing is critical for our control efforts,” Nathan Grubaugh, an assistant professor at the Yale School of Public Health said in a news release. “We simplified the test so that it only costs a couple of dollars for reagents, and we expect that labs will only charge about $10 per sample. If cheap alternatives like SalivaDirect can be implemented across the country, we may finally get a handle on this pandemic, even before a vaccine.”
Granted it’s early and these tests still need to be produced for widespread use, but testing prices have been among the primary reasons smaller conferences have decided to forgo pursuing a fall season. If the SalivaDirect test is made available to athletic departments nationwide, college football’s hopes for completing a season look more hopeful than they did just 72 hours ago.
Following Malik Heath’s DUI, what does the MSU receiving corps look like if he’s suspended or has to miss games?
Before I dive into this, let the record reflect that Heath has not been publicly suspended as of yet, and last we heard from MSU the situation was being monitored.
That said, it’s fair to assume Heath could miss a game or two and that is undoubtedly a big hit to an already thin MSU receiving corps.
Senior Osirus Mitchell led the team in yards and touchdowns a season ago and should again be relied on heavily in Leach’s air raid offense. The biggest question with Mitchell becomes if he can be consistent. After averaging over four catches per game over MSU’s first six contests, the Sarasota, Florida product corralled just five passes total in the Bulldogs’ final four games of 2019. That will have to improve regardless of whether Heath is on the field and will be exacerbated if he’s not.
Other pieces to follow include senior JaVonta Payton and junior Austin Williams. Payton came to MSU as a relatively highly-touted junior college product and showed flashes a season ago but never cracked the rotation regularly. Now entering his final collegiate season, coaches have been high on his development and it’s expected he will contribute regularly this fall.
As for Williams, he showed some brief prowess in MSU’s season-opening win over Louisiana last year when he caught three passes for 43 yards and a touchdown. There will assuredly be more opportunities for receptions in Leach’s offense compared to Joe Moorhead’s RPO-based system and the Ocean Springs native figures to be among the beneficiaries.
Rated the No. 2 junior college receiver in the 2020 class according to 247sports Composite, Heath was expected to step in on day one and contribute immediately. It remains to be seen whether that’s the case, but if the former Under Armour All-American misses time due to his offseason arrest, it will almost assuredly affect MSU’s offensive output.
Throughout the pandemic I’ve tried to afford myself more and more time away from my Playstation and Netflix account in order to read. I’ll concede I faded as a reader some throughout college and this has proved the perfect opportunity to delve into some great literary work.
With that, here are my five favorite books I’ve read since being quarantined:
1. The Junction Boys: How Ten Days in Hell with Bear Bryant Forged a Championship Team — Jim Dent (Seriously this book is incredible and anyone who’s a college football fan should read it)
2. Just Kids — Patti Smith
3. The Cost of These Dreams: Sports Stories and Other Serious Business — Wright Thompson
4. Character Carved in Stone: The 12 Core Virtues of West Point That Build Leaders and Produce Success — Pat Williams
5. Dixieland Delight: A Football Season on the Road in the Southeastern Conference — Clay Travis
Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @bportnoy15.