Every football team enters the season with a bit of uncertainty.
Mississippi State is no exception.
The Bulldogs still have not named a starting quarterback or left tackle, are extremely young at tight end and have an entirely new defensive staff and scheme just to name a few.
MSU will start to receive some clarity on those issues today as it opens the season against South Alabama at 11 a.m. on SEC Network.
“A lot of times in Game 1 you’re playing yourself,” said MSU coach Dan Mullen. “Game 1 you’re going out there to play clean, execute at a high level and try not to make many mistakes. There will be a lot of new guys playing.”
A nine month long competition to be the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback in the opener will finally be settled today between junior Damian Williams and sophomore Nick Fitzgerald, although Mullen has stated he anticipates both playing in the first quarter. Redshirt freshman Nick Tiano is also expected to debut.
“Honestly, I have no idea who is going to take the first snap and I don’t think that really matters,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re all going to play, all going to get our snaps and are all going to show what we can do.”
Sophomore Elgton Jenkins and junior Martinas Rankin have been locked in a battle at left tackle during fall camp. True sophomore Justin Johnson is considered State’s veteran at tight end with four first-year players behind him.
The Bulldogs defensive coaching staff received a complete overhaul in the offseason and is now being led by Peter Sirmon. The former NFL linebacker is ready to debut his new defense which is expected to showcase more of a 3-4 look.
“Now it’s for real and we’re going against somebody we’re not familiar with,” Sirmon said. “Sometimes practicing and scrimmages lead to some comfort. Guys feel more comfortable going against our own players because they know the match-ups. I’m excited to see how these guys are going to do.”
South Alabama shares many similar questions entering today’s games. Like MSU, the Jaguars also lost a dozen starters, have a new defensive coordinator and are breaking in a new starting quarterback.
“Both teams are really undefined going into this and both teams are trying to find their personality of what this team is,” Mullen said. “It’s the first game for both teams. No matter how many guys you have returning or lost, it’s always a new team and a new year.”
USA is coming off a 5-7 season a year ago and are 0-2 all-time against the Bulldogs. State claimed a 30-10 victory in Starkville in 2012 and also won the last meeting 35-3 in Mobile in 2014.