Ben's burning questions: How MSU will handle its crowds, an update on the quarterback competition and what Ja'Marr Chase opting out means for the Bulldogs


Ben Portnoy

Ben Portnoy



Ben Portnoy



STARKVILLE -- Football is back.


Saturday night, an Austin Peay team flush with Mississippi State connections, including head coach Marquase Lovings, opened the 2020 campaign with a 24-17 loss to Central Arkansas.


And while I'll concede I was only able to watch the game in spurts due to a prior engagement, there was something oh so refreshing about watching CJ Evans Jr. take an option pitch 75 yards to the house on the game's first play from scrimmage.



That said, let's get into this week's questions:



Did you see the FCS opener last night and how the crowd regulations worked? Do you think it's feasible for FBS teams to do the same?


As mentioned, I only caught a few glimpses of last night's game, but it seems measures put in place for fan attendance worked -- though we'll probably know more two weeks from now during which time any COVID-19 issues could arise.


The Mississippi State athletic department announced a slew of COVID-19 related safety measures on Aug. 21 -- including that it will sell beer (!!) beginning this fall. Among the measures included in the announcement were that patrons will be required to wear face coverings during all movement throughout the stadium and when not able to maintain recommended physical distance from people not in their same household, all queued lines at gates, concession stands and merchandise booths must follow social distancing measures and that hand sanitizer stations will be spread throughout concourses.


At present, venues in Mississippi are slated to allow 25 percent capacity in stadiums as a whole, while club levels will be limited to 50 percent capacity following an executive order from Gov. Tate Reeves. This, of course, falls in line with what virtually every other Southeastern Conference school has done thus far.


In short, if FCS programs with far less resources can pull this off, those in the FBS and SEC should also be able to do so.



Where does the Mississippi State quarterback battle stand after two weeks of competition?


Stanford graduate transfer K.J. Costello arrived at MSU as the presumed starter, and it appears the Bulldogs are heading that way as fall camp enters its third week.


Head coach Mike Leach said Saturday that he's not altogether close to naming a starter, but there's begun to be some separation between Costello and sophomore Garrett Shrader and freshman Will Rogers.


"I think that K.J. is ahead," Leach said. "But we're trying to see as much as we can out of Shrader and Will at the same time. But again, we're going to have to pare that down too."


With four weeks until the season opener against LSU, who I'll get to in a second, it's expected Leach will begin to siphon reps more toward the trio of Costello, Shrader and Rogers. Perhaps the most intriguing piece of all of this is where Rogers falls on the depth chart.


I've written on the subject a couple times since camp opened, but if Rogers supplants Shrader for the No. 2 spot, this quarterback room gets interesting quickly.


"You've got to make some tough decisions," Leach said in regard to how to split the reps going forward. "This is different than a P.E. class. You've got to invest in the reps in the guys that are going to be important to you to go out and win."



What impact does Ja'marr Chase's opt-out have on Mississippi State's week one game against LSU?


We'll have more on this as we get to game week and actually previewing this contest, but man, losing Chase hurts.


Perceived as a top-five NFL draft pick come 2021, Chase is among the most prolific receivers in the country after he totaled 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns a season ago.


Sunday, images of LSU's depth chart from last season with crossed out names of players that have since departed circulated on social media. With Chase now out of the equation, the Tigers are expected to return just six starters from last season's dominant national championship team.


For MSU, LSU's loss is its gain. The Bulldogs are expected to have a historically porous defense this season as they rebuild from last year's unit, and not having to see a playmaker of Chase's caliber week one helps a secondary whose most experienced corner is sophomore Martin Emerson.


MSU is going to be far from dominant defensively in 2020, and it's probably fair to assume this year's group finishes as one of the three worst in the SEC. But heading into Week 1 against an LSU team that is replacing as much as it is, there has to be some semblance of confidence.



Ben's best:


Throughout quarantine I've tried to spend time watching a slew of classic movies that I hadn't previously seen. But I'll save that for another day.


Among my favorite subgenres of flicks are the R-rated comedies between 2000 and 2015. Here are my top picks from that era:


1. Wedding Crashers


2. The Hangover


3. Old School


4. Forgetting Sarah Marshall


5. Superbad




Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @bportnoy15.


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