By NEMS Daily Journal
For the first time in a decade, there are national expectations for Mississippi State football.
The Bulldogs are ranked No. 20 in the country in the USA Today coaches’ preseason poll, which was released Thursday – one of eight SEC teams in the preseason top 25.
The last time the Bulldogs were ranked in the preseason was 2001: No. 19 by the coaches and No. 20 in the Associated Press poll.
Oklahoma was No. 1 and Alabama No. 2 in the coaches’ voting. The rest of the top 5: Oregon, LSU and Florida State. Oregon and LSU open the season against each other on Sept. 3.
The poll underscores the strength of the SEC Western Division, with five of the six teams being ranked. Arkansas is No. 14 and defending national champion Auburn is No. 19. Ole Miss did not receive any poll votes from the coaches.
The ranked SEC Eastern Division teams: South Carolina No. 12, Georgia No. 22 and Florida No. 23.
The AP’s 2011 preseason poll – with voting by selected national media members – comes out Aug. 20.
The last time Mississippi State entered the season as a ranked team, things didn’t go so well: A 3-8 record. That was the first of six consecutive losing seasons, and eight in nine years.
There is reason to hope for a better showing this time. MSU was 9-4 last season and stomped Michigan in the Gator Bowl, and there are 15 starters returning.
Oklahoma is the preseason No. for the first time since 2003.
The top-ranked team in the preseason coaches’ poll has won three national titles since USA Today took over the administration of the poll in 1991 – Florida State in 1993 and 1999 and Southern Cal in 2004 – a later title vacated due to NCAA violations.