BRAD LOCKE: Reasons for confidence and concern

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

This being college football, it is never, ever too soon to look ahead to the next season. It’s still about eight months away, which is around the time baseball pennant races will be heating up.
It’s a long wait. So we must fill the void by making educated guesses (read: wild, flailing stabs in the dark) about what will happen this coming fall.
Mississippi State is coming off its second consecutive winning season and bowl win, going 7-6 and beating Wake Forest in the Music City Bowl. It was a bit of a disappointing season relative to the preseason expectations of some, but that’s not what we’re going to discuss here.
A lot of players return next season: eight on offense, seven on defense. A lot of those guys didn’t start every game – like quarterback Tyler Russell and injured right guard Tobias Smith – but we’ll count them anyway.
We’re going to examine this two ways: Where MSU should have the most confidence, and where it should have the most concern.
Confidence
Assuming he’s the starting QB next season, Russell should benefit from not having to platoon with another guy. His numbers last season weren’t great – a 53.5 percent completion rate, 1,034 yards, eight TDs, four interceptions.
I expect MSU to be much improved at quarterback.
The offensive line and receiving corps both return largely intact, and both are coming off less-than-stellar seasons. So the hope is that experience will pay off, and for the receivers, the addition of 6-foot-4 redshirt freshman Joe Morrow will help.
Defensively, the line should be solid even without Fletcher Cox. Josh Boyd and Kaleb Eulls return as starters, juco transfer Denico Autry can make an instant impact at end, and there is plenty of depth.
The secondary lost a couple of safeties but remains stacked at cornerback.
Concerns
MSU must replace Vick Ballard at tailback. Backup LaDarius Perkins returns but is not an every-down back. Sophomore Nick Griffin looks like the kind of kid that can take over the role, but we’ve got to see it to know it.
The linebackers made huge strides this past season, but I wouldn’t call it an elite SEC group. And a new middle linebacker is needed; look for sophomore Ferlando Bohanna to step in there.
Oh, and State must replace kicker Derek DePasquale.
You want a prediction on MSU’s record? Sorry, not ready to do that yet. Plenty of time to ponder that one.
Brad Locke (brad.locke@journalinc.com) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at djournal.com.