Mississippi State reached new heights last year with its first ever No. 1 ranking, five consecutive weeks atop the college football landscape and first Orange Bowl bid since World War II.
The Bulldogs however slid down the final stretch of the season losing three of their final four games including the Egg and Orange Bowls.
Now it is back to the drawing board with a new season and a new opportunity to climb up the ranks. MSU was left out of the preseason top 25 and picked to finish last in the SEC West for the second straight year.
The Bulldogs can begin their ascension today traveling to Southern Miss at 9 p.m. for the season opener on Fox Sports 1.
“We started off good last year, but we didn’t finish strong,” said MSU quarterback Dak Prescott. “So we took that as motivation all the way into the offseason, spring ball, summer and then camp so we’re just excited to get back going. We need to start off fast and finish fast. We just need to be the best team that we can be week in and week out, starting week one.”
It is the second straight season the in-state rivals have met in the opener. State got the better end of last year’s exchange by blanking the Golden Eagles 49-0 in Starkville. Prescott passed for four touchdowns as the Bulldogs offense rolled up 550 yards while the defense forced two turnovers and posted its first shutout in 15 years.
But USM is expected to be a much improved program from its 3-9 campaign a year ago. The Golden Eagles return 11 starters and have bolstered their roster with transfers from Michigan, TCU, Auburn, Kansas and Oklahoma.
“A lot of those guys are coming back,” said MSU defensive end Ryan Brown. “They have a lot of experience. They have that chemistry now because they went through a lot last year. We’re expecting them to try to shock America.”
Southern Miss has the benefit of having Nick Mullens, a two-year starter, back at quarterback. Mullens threw for 2,470 yards yards, 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions last fall and is battling TCU transfer Tyler Matthews to retain his starting job.
“We anticipate both to play because both are good players,” said USM coach Todd Monken.
Southern Miss holds a slight 14-13-1 edge in the series after Bulldog victories in 1975 and 1976 were forfeited.