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College Football Preview 2024: Mississippi State Bulldogs win projections, strengths and weaknesses, quarterback spotlight and more

2X28325 Mississippi State head coach Jeff Lebby calls out to his players during Mississippi State's NCAA college spring football game, Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Starkville, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Then-defensive coordinator Zach Arnett took over the Mississippi State program after head coach Mike Leach’s tragic death in December 2022, and he moved away from Leach’s patented Air-Raid offense to poor results the following season.

The Bulldogs missed a bowl game for the first time since 2009, mainly due to the offense’s inability to get anything going. Arnett was fired after just one season, and Oklahoma offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby was hired to revitalize the program. With him at the helm and many new starters from the transfer portal in tow, Mississippi State’s offense could be a lot better in 2024. The defense could ultimately cause the Bulldogs to miss their second straight bowl game, however.

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Biggest Strength: A new-look offense under Jeff Lebby

Mississippi State’s offense won’t look anything like it did last year, which should be a good thing, considering the Bulldogs finished as the ninth-worst Power Five team in expected points added per play. Mississippi State is expected to start eight transfers on offense and hired an innovative offensive head coach in Jeff Lebby.

Biggest Weakness: Questions everywhere on defense

Mississippi State lost eight starters from a defense that was around average last year. The Bulldogs need to be better at getting after the quarterback in 2024, as their 63.3 team pass-rushing grade in 2023 ranked 10th worst in college football.

2023 Team Overview

EPA per play Yards per play Successful play rate Explosive run play rate Explosive pass play rate
-0.123 5.1 29.8% 15,6% 12.9%
114th T-109th 126th 64th T-89th
EPA allowed per play Yards allowed per play Successful play rate allowed Explosive run rate allowed Explosive pass rate allowed
-0.019 5.3 33.5% 14.4% 12.3%
63rd T-47th 47th 53rd T-24th

Three Notable Transfer Portal Additions

  • QB Blake Shapen (Baylor): 71.7 PFF grade
  • WR Kelly Akharaiyi (UTEP): 76.6 PFF grade
  • C Ethan Miner (North Texas): 82.5 PFF grade

Three Notable Transfer Portal Losses

  • QB Will Rogers (Washington): 77.3 PFF grade
  • RB Woody Marks (USC): 82.0 PFF grade
  • CB DeCarlos Nicholson (USC): 71.3 PFF grade

Quarterback Spotlight: Blake Shapen

2023 Grade: 71.7
Key Stat: 60.9 non-play action passing grade (79th out of 95 quarterbacks with 300-plus dropbacks)


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