The best news from SEC Media Days last week was where the Razorbacks were predicted to finish in the SEC West.
Arkansas is slotted fourth by the media. Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Mississippi State all lag behind.
For that projection to come to fruition, coach Bret Bielema’s team needs to beat at least two of those three teams (plus win some other games). By this point of the season on our prediction/preview of every Arkansas game in 2017, the A&M and Ole Miss games have passed. SEC Country has Arkansas losing to the Aggies but beating the Rebels.
That leaves Mississippi State. Arkansas’ 11th game of the season could be what swings the Razorbacks in the standings.
This is how we see it shaking out:
Mississippi State Bulldogs
Coach: Dan Mullen (ninth year)
Last season: 6-7 (3-5 in SEC West; tied for fifth)
Plays Arkansas: Nov. 18 at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville
2016 by the numbers
- Scoring offense: 30.4 points per game (56th out of 128 FBS teams)
- Passing offense: 209.7 yards per game (89th)
- Rushing offense: 230.5 yards per game (23rd)
- Scoring defense: 31.8 points per game (93rd)
- Passing defense: 281.5 yards allowed per game (120th)
- Rushing defense: 177.5 yards allowed per game (70th)
Mississippi State offense
If fans only pay cursory attention, they’d believe Mississippi State was Nick Fitzgerald and no one else. The MSU quarterback deserves the plaudits he’s received so far (second-team preseason All-SEC) after being an absolute wrecking crew for the Bulldogs offense last season. Fitzgerald ran for 14 touchdowns and almost 1,400 yards. He threw for another 21 touchdowns and 2,100-plus yards, too.
Fitzgerald’s weakness is he isn’t terribly accurate. His completion percentage is just at 54. And he’s lost arguably the best MSU wideout in the last 10 years in Fred Ross. Of course, he has Donald Gray, who is awfully good, as his No. 1 now, though, which helps. The offensive line has Martinas Rankin, who is high caliber, but it’s otherwise a little questionable. Might not matter, though, as Fitzgerald is prone to taking off, anyway.
Mississippi State defense
It isn’t good — let’s start there. Rather, it wasn’t good last season. The game between these two teams last season was an absolute joy to watch if you love offense and a nightmare if you prefer defense. The Bulldogs were especially poor against the pass and Arkansas’ best player just happens to be its quarterback.
But there is a brightness about this unit for fans seeking it. Mississippi State returns three of its top four tacklers. Included in that trio is Leo Lewis. The linebacker is legitimately good, not just the best player on a bad defense. He starts anywhere in the SEC. For MSU to be better, though, the Bulldogs have to slow someone passing-wise. Brandon Bryant and Mark McLaurin are back at safety, which helps, but they are a lot like Arkansas at that position: Experience might not necessarily equate to high quality.
Mississippi State vs. Arkansas positional edges
- Quarterback — Wash
- Running back — Arkansas
- Receivers — Mississippi State
- Offensive line — Arkansas
- Defensive line — Arkansas
- Linebackers — Mississippi State
- Secondary — Arkansas
- Special teams — Mississippi State
What SEC Country says about Mississippi State vs. Arkansas
Eric Bolin: Whether Arkansas goes to a bowl game or not this season, for me, comes down to this game. Razorbacks beat Mississippi State, they’re in. They don’t, they’re out. Well, as of today in mid-July. Last year, I picked Arkansas 6-6 in the summer, then upped it to 7-5 after I saw fall camp. Might bump them a win after seeing fall camp this year, too. But for now …
Prediction: Mississippi State 41, Razorbacks 38
Jason Kersey: I love Fitzgerald and think he could very well end up being the best quarterback in the SEC by the end of the 2017 season. But if this game turns into another shootout like last year — and I think it could — I’ll go with the Razorbacks.
Prediction: Razorbacks 45, Mississippi State 40
Trent Shadid: Dan Mullen seems to be working his quarterback magic with Fitzgerald, who I think is a serious sleeper to earn first-team All-SEC honors. But he’s not the next Dak Prescott. Based on Mississippi State’s defense the past two seasons, it would take a talent like Prescott for the Bulldogs to keep up in this one. Expect a big day for Austin Allen and/or Devwah Whaley, because Mississippi State isn’t stopping both.
Prediction: Razorbacks 41, Mississippi State 27
Projected average final score of Mississippi State vs. Arkansas
Razorbacks 41, Mississippi State 36
Arkansas’ projected record so far
SEC Country: 6-5