Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports
Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell.
After starting the season 7-0, Mississippi State stumbled down the stretch, losing five of its last six games, culminating with the 34-20 Gator Bowl loss to Northwestern.
The Bulldogs weren't so much beaten as they were exposed.
Quarterback Tyler Russell struggled down the stretch, tossing six interceptions in his final two games, including four in the Gator Bowl, in which he looked rattled from the moment he stepped foot onto the field. Luckily for Russell, running back LaDarius Perkins—who finished with 1,024 rushing yards and eight touchdowns—will return to stabilize the offense.
Defensively, the Bulldogs will lose cornerbacks Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay, along with leading tackler Cam Lawrence at linebacker. This off a defense that struggled against the run down the stretch, giving up 200 yards per game on the ground over the last five games of the season.
The Bulldogs already lost state power, and head coach Dan Mullen (4-20 at Mississippi State against teams that finish with eight or more wins) desperately needs to get a signature win before it's too late.