The weekend college football fans have waited for is here, and that’s reason for excitement in 49 states, Nebraska being the possible exception.
College football is back.
Nobody in Mississippi suffered through an embarrassing Week 0 loss, though something like that is not out of the question in the weeks ahead. Hopefully not.
There are high expectations for vastly different teams in Starkville and Oxford. Mississippi State is built on experience and the idea that players have had more time in the offense under Mike Leach now in his third year as head coach.
Ole Miss suffered major losses through normal attrition after last year’s 10-win season.
The Rebels have added 24 transfer portal guys, at least one in every position group.
Ole Miss kicks off at 3 p.m. against Troy, MSU at 6:30 p.m. against Memphis.
Memphis at Mississippi State
Three of five losses for the Bulldogs in 2021 were games that easily could have turned their way with greater consistency or a couple of plays made along the way.
No game glared like that more than Memphis.
The Bulldogs’ offense scored four touchdowns to the Tigers’ two but also allowed Memphis to score on a defensive touchdown and a special teams touchdown though the latter had as much to do with officiating as anything else.
Leach downplays the idea of revenge as a motivating factor in this game.
The reality is so many players on State’s experienced roster were part of that disappointing day at the Liberty Bowl. They can’t help but remember it. How that memory serves to motivate is up to each individual.
In its game notes Memphis points out this year’s team is among the youngest in the country with 32 of 62 players on the two-deep depth chart being third-year sophomores or younger.
Well, some of those sophomores played a lot of football last year such as quarterback Seth Henigan who passed for 3,322 yards and 25 touchdowns with eight interceptions.
He didn’t light up the Bulldogs last year, but it was only his fourth college game, his first against the SEC.
The key for mid-majors against the SEC is often line play.
For Memphis, senior end Jaylon Allen had five sacks last year, while senior tackle Wardalis Ducksworth, a Mississippian from Mize, had four.
Cormontae Hamilton, a Memphis native, had two sacks among the 13 game appearances he had over two seasons at Ohio State.
If the Tigers have to get into their D line depth more than they would prefer the Bulldogs might not have to suffer anxiety attacks at the end.
MSU left tackle Kwatrivous Johnson had a good camp and should face a nice challenge off the bat. He needs to help Will Rogers stay clean and vertical.
Finishing a drive with a touchdown is the goal any time your offense takes the field.
If the Bulldogs can do that Saturday night it will have the added benefit of carving an easier path late.
It will take great execution by State, something the Bulldogs didn’t consistently achieve in early games last year.
This is where the more experienced Bulldogs need to show their age and act like they’ve been there.
Prediction: MSU 31, Memphis 16
The Beat Guys: Theo DeRosa MSU, Michael Katz MSU
Troy at Ole Miss
For the first time under Lane Kiffin the Rebels will not open with a Power Five opponent.
This is a good starting opponent for a team that hasn’t announced a starting quarterback.
Expect that starter to be Jaxson Dart, though I imagine Kiffin will continue with the “either/or” approach right up through the announcement of starting lineups on the big board in the stadium.
Troy is a good opponent because it’s not Alabama or Georgia, but it’s also because it’s not an FCS team. (That comes next week.)
Troy is not that far removed from 31 wins in three seasons under Neal Brown. It’s far enough removed to have a coaching change though and has turned to Jon Sumrall, once an Ole Miss assistant under Matt Luke.
Sumrall is a high-energy, max-effort guy, so expect the Trojans to play hard.
He inherits an experienced roster including at quarterback.
The Trojans weren’t very prolific in the passing game last year. It won’t be shocking to see them try to run straight ahead. If so, the Rebels’ deep and talented defensive line that we’ve heard about will be on stage right away.
So too will new linebacker Troy Brown who was a three-time first-team All-MAC choice at Central Michigan.
The focus at Ole Miss most of camp has been the quarterbacks.
Every quarterback loves a good running game, and I’m interested to see if the Rebels can control the ball on the ground.
They were deep with three running backs last year, and now — at least on paper — they look to be deep with three new guys, two from the transfer portal.
Troy led the Sun Belt and was No. 11 overall in sacks with 3.17 per game last year.
Sumrall no doubt would like to get after the quarterback since neither has played a full season at the college level.
A strong effort by running backs Zach Evans, Ulysses Bentley and Quinshon Judkins will slow down that rush.
Troy was fair against the run a year ago allowing 143 yards a game.
The Rebels should be able to get that run game going.
If they do they’ll find that their quarterback will make plays off that run and gain some confidence along the way.
Prediction: Ole Miss 33, Troy 20
The Beat Guys: Theo DeRosa Ole Miss, Michael Katz Ole Miss
Elsewhere in college football:
Oregon vs. Georgia
Utah at Florida
Cincinnati at Arkansas
Notre Dame at Ohio State
Alford: Ohio State
DeRosa: Ohio State
Katz: Ohio State
Florida State vs. LSU
Liberty at Southern Miss
Alford: Southern Miss
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