STARKVILLE — Mike Leach is rearing for a postseason appearance.
While bowl selections among Southeastern Conference teams likely won’t be settled for another two weeks, Leach told reporters Monday that he’d be in favor of participating, regardless of what MSU’s final record reads.
“I want to play as many games as we can,” he said. “I mean, we got a young team, and the more practice, the more work we get, the better the way I look at it.”
Given the uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no win threshold required to be eligible for a bowl game this season. Under normal circumstances, schools need to win six games to qualify for a bowl. Through eight games in 2020’s 10-game conference-only schedule, MSU has a 2-6 overall record.
At present the SEC has tie-ins with nine bowl games not including the College Football Playoff, the New Year’s Six games and the Las Vegas Bowl, which has been canceled. Assuming that some iteration of Alabama and Florida ends up in the CFP and New Year’s Six, that would leave nine spots remaining for the rest of the conference.
Should the SEC tables remain as they are through the final two weeks of the season, MSU’s postseason fate would likely come down to which of the Bulldogs, South Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas and LSU the remaining bowl games would want. It’s also conceivable Texas A&M or Georgia could end up in a New Year’s Six bowl as well, thus opening another potential spot for MSU down the line.
The Bulldogs can improve their postseason stock over the final two weeks with home games against Auburn and Missouri still left on the ledger.
“I think we’ve been generally positive the whole time,” Leach said in reference to MSU’s recent run of near misses against No. 12 Georgia and Ole Miss. “I think that, yes, we have had reduced numbers, but I don’t think that’s really diminished our desire to play. It’s diminished some of our advantage, perhaps, but not our desire to play and improve our skills.”
Mike Leach and managing the recruiting trail as the Early Signing Period draws nearer
MSU has seen four players in its 2021 class decommit for varying reasons over the past month. Now less than 14 days shy of the Early Signing Period which runs from Dec. 16 through Dec. 18, it’s expected Leach and his staff could add as many as six or seven more prospects to the Bulldogs’ current 19-player haul.
Monday, Leach addressed the 2021 recruiting class and where it stacks up of late.
“This class has been more of a comprehensive effort with everybody involved,” he said in comparison to the 2020 class. “And it does kind of vary as far as researching and calling recruits. it’s not as productive a time, as I’d like to see, but it is the type of thing where all of a sudden, OK, everybody’s off this week, alright, call all your recruits. So it hasn’t been a lack of time; it’s been a lack of contact and hands-on, show somebody around type of deal.”
While the Bulldogs have seen an influx of departures, Leach attributed some of the varying changes to the difficulties in scouting players this year. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, coaches have been limited in their ability to hit the road and recruit in addition to attending games in person. Players are also being forced to commit to schools without having seen them due to the NCAA’s ongoing recruiting dead period.
“They always say, ‘Well I’m going to stand on the table for this…'” Leach said in reference to meetings among recruiting staffers and talent evaluators. ” I’ve never really seen that stand on the table. Most of the coaches I know would break the damn table if they stood on the table. … Next time we get into that, I’m going to make the guy stand on the table. I’m going to make sure it’s an old table and he has to stand on it.”
As of Monday, MSU’s class ranks No. 35 nationally and No. 10 in the SEC according to the 247Sports Composite Rankings after reaching as high as No. 22 ahead of the most recent wave of decommitments.
KJ Costello’s future at Mississippi State remains murky
Monday, the East-West Shrine Bowl announced MSU quarterback KJ Costello had received an honorary invite to the event, though the game will not be held due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The East-West Shrine Bowl is normally reserved for college seniors who are preparing for the NFL draft. Given the usual criterion, Costello’s selection would presume that he will not be using his extra year of eligibility afforded by the NCAA this year. Asked if he had any indication Costello would not be back in Starkville next year, Leach said, “I think that’s still in the works. Not sure yet.”
In his first game at MSU after a four year career at Stanford, Costello broke a three-decade old SEC passing record as he torched defending national champion LSU for 623 passing yards and five touchdowns. Following the LSU game, the former Cardinal performed to mixed results and was twice pulled in favor of freshman backup Will Rogers.
Costello has not appeared in a game since leaving an Oct. 31 contest against No. 1 Alabama with an undisclosed injury.
Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @bportnoy15.